REGIONAL—It’s not just about prices and products.
Marketing small towns for Christmas means emphasizing the sales as well as the sights and sounds of a community, according to N’West Iowa chamber directors.
Orange City Chamber of Commerce executive director Mike Hofman said that is the best away to attract shoppers.
“We pitch it as a time to experience a true downtown with activities, sights and shopping for all ages, Hofman said.
They are drawn to “the unique experiences, family shop owners and employees. Friendly customer service and a festive atmosphere,” Hofman said. “We play up our unique shops and experiences.
“Is attracting local shoppers any different from folks from other areas? Yes, we need to promote to the broader area to keep our small-town business owners going strong. The more people know about our offerings the better.”
Orange City offers Holiday Vendor Market, Sinterklaas Day, Santa visits, Christmas-discounted bonus bucks, sleigh rides, tree lighting, a chili feed, Christmas decorations on streets and in stores as well as unique shopping experiences.
Rock Rapids Chamber of Commerce director Angie Jager said the community has multiple holiday events leading up to Christmas
“Our big event is Dec. 12, which is a community soup supper, activities and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus,” Jager said. “We also have a live Nativity scene and living windows downtown and we will give away $250 in chamber gift certificates. There are drawing bags at numerous businesses in town, so people can register to win between now and Dec. 12.”
In addition, the McCrossan Boys Ranch provides horse and buggy rides as well that night and a family performs Christmas carols as they stroll up and down streets. It provides a wonderful small-town feel to the holiday, she said, and it is good for business.
“Shoppers are attracted by participating businesses having holiday open houses,” Jager said. “New this year we are doing a Chocolate Walk on Dec. 19 which invites people to enjoy delicious chocolate treats while they shop downtown.”
Rock Rapids also held holiday open houses and has a craft and vendor fair in late November. The holiday season runs for several weeks, which benefits local stores and shops, while home-based businesses that sell jewelry, crafts, food and more benefit from the fair as well, she said.
Mistletoe Money is a 10 percent discount on chamber gift certificates. It is on sale at the chamber office every Monday until Dec. 23 and on Dec. 12 at the community soup supper, an event that draws more than 400 people who pay what they wish, Jager said.
The gift certificates may be spent over the next six months at all chamber-affiliated businesses, of which there are more than 80.
Black Friday and Small Business Saturday are important for Rock Rapids’ businesses as well, she said.
“To round out the season, participating businesses will have extended holiday hours Dec. 19-24,” Jager said.
‘Extra special touches’
Sioux Center Chamber of Commerce executive director Barb Den Herder said emphasizing the traditions and charms of area communities is key.
“Small-town holidays are special because they promote community,” Den Herder said. “Many of our businesses host special holiday events that bring in people from around the region. They enjoy seeing the new holiday trends, shopping and enjoying a nice warm mug of apple cider together.
“Small-town holidays are special because our local businesses give extra special touches to make the customer shopping experience a wonderful one,” she said. “Special orders, putting items on hold plus gift wrapping are just a few of the special touches our local businesses are happy to do for their customers.”
Sioux Center is offering a chance to win $200 in local shopping dollars. If people spend $150 in local businesses during Small Business Saturday today (Saturday, Nov. 30), they are eligible.
Den Herder said drawing out-of-town visitors and shoppers is important but it also is crucial to remind locals of the events and bargains available right in their towns.
“During the holiday season, we encourage our community to shop Sioux Center,” she said. “By shopping locally, they support local business who in turn support the community. We educate our community that we have a wide selection of gift items, convenience close to home, plus exceptional customer service.”
Den Herder said Sioux Center uses multiple platforms to inform customers.
“We attract people to our community by helping market our business’ events,” she said. “We advertise in the paper, radio and on social media.”
‘Sense of community’
Shantel Oostra is the new Sheldon chamber director for the Sheldon Chamber and Development Corporation. She said Sheldon has a wide variety of events and activities designed to bring shoppers to town.
“The sense of community is especially evident during the holiday season,” Oostra said. “In a small town it seems everyone knows everyone, or is familiar with others. You just want to see everyone enjoying the holiday season.
“We offer different holiday events to draw people to the area,” she said. “Our retailers do a great job of providing products that draw people into their business; they also offer great discounts during this season.”
Some of the events being offered in Sheldon this year include Santa making regular appearances, a free movie at the theater, dinner at local restaurants on Monday night when stores stay open late and holiday crafts.
Two new events are a Children’s Festival of Trees at the Prairie Arts Historical Park Dec. 7-9 and a Family Fun Afternoon of entertainment at the Northwest Iowa Lifelong Learning and Recreation Center on the campus of Northwest Iowa Community College.
“Offering activities during business hours helps draw people to the retail areas,” Oostra said. “Offering activities for kids helps give parents some free time for shopping.”
Oostra said promoting events is crucial.
“Here at the SCDC we do as much advertising for our retailers as we can,” she said.
Oostra said the chamber uses newspaper and radio advertising, social media, printed materials and old-fashioned word-of-mouth to spread the word.
Hofman said small towns must aggressively market themselves to let people know its worth a short drive to experience the holiday there.
“We need to promote to the broader area to keep our small-town business owners going strong,” he said. “The more people know about our offering the better.”