EAST COUNTY — One thing is for certain: Business as usual is not an option anymore.
As costs for businesses are rising and the economy continues to struggle, East County business not only are getting back to the basics of customer service, but also they are finding some creative ways to draw in customers — and using each other to do it.
“Spending habits have definitely changed, but consumers are still spending money,” said Gunner Aker, owner of Lakewood Ranch-based marketing and advertising company Aker Marketing. “It’s important for businesses to get creative and figure out how to reach those potential customers. A lot of businesses are understanding that they are in this together. They feel like that’s giving them an edge on their competition.”
Several East County businesses have employed the strength-in-numbers concept.
Winestyles and Italian-themed store i Tesori in San Marco Plaza have teamed up in recent months to bring in artists to do presentations based on wine countries.
Stingray’s Grill in Lakewood Ranch recently partnered with Foxy Lady for a Ladies Night Out June 11. Stingray’s offered specials on food, while Foxy Lady modeled clothes for customers.
Formalities Bridal & Evening Wear has brought in an event planner and other wedding-related businesses to form an elite partnership called Coast to Coast Wedding Professionals. If a bride uses businesses within the group, she can earn discounts on products and services. The more services she uses within the program, the deeper the savings, Formalities owner Lisa Edenfield said.
“Everybody is trying to work together to get through this (economy),” said Vanessa Baugh, owner of Vanessa Fine Jewelry. “That’s something I’ve never seen before.”
Even nonprofits such as the Sarasota Film Society are catching the memo.
Tim Calandra, director of development and operations for the Film Society, said the society already has been partnering with local business to provide discounts for its 11,000 members. But more recently, he initiated a meal-and-movie concept at two Lakewood Ranch eateries to help bring in business. MacAllisters Grill & Tavern offers a dinner and movie bargain for under $20, and Ed’s Tavern now offers lunch and a movie for about $11.
“The patron feels like they are getting a good value for (his) dollar, and we generate ticket sales, too,” Calandra said. “It’s been pretty successful. I think it’s a great concept. As much as you can do to work together in today’s economy, that’s what it’s all about.”
But business owners aren’t limiting their strategies to joint partnerships. They are being as proactive as possible.
Many, such as Little Bookworms, are making a point to keep in better touch with customers through e-mail or newsletters, and to show their appreciation.
Little Bookworms manager Heather Anderson said the store is including coupons in its correspondence with customers and has started a loyalty program between Little Bookworms and its sister store, Lakewood Ranch Booksellers.
Similarly, Statements Salon owner Melissa Schooley has started offering daily specials with some of the new talents at the salon and is working more closely with customers to help them stretch their dollars without losing the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. Additionally, the salon has started a referral program, which earns new referrals $25 off their visit.
Janie Pieper, owner of Obsessories and The Stacked Heel stores on Main Street, orders cookies from a local business once a week to show customer appreciation while supporting and promoting another business, she said.
And stores such as Outdoor Kitchen Cabinets & More have begun offering a wider variety of merchandise so that customers have a wider selection and more price points from which to choose, owner Clark Trautweiler said. Similarly, Formalities Bridal & Evening Wear recently began selling consignment wedding gowns.
“People are really looking for bargains out there,” Aker said. “We’re really seeing more businesses doing creative things to bring people in.”
Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].