Shopping local just got easier in downtown Farmington with partnerships, tech, and retail

It was a decade ago when Small Business Saturday was first recognized, a shopping holiday first started by American Express to encourage people to shop at their locally-owned small businesses.

Taking place the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the shopping holiday is seen as a response to the juggernaut Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales typically offered by national chains and corporations, intended to draw attention back to the businesses owned by our friends and neighbors.

It’s a marketing campaign that has since taken on a life of its own, with small businesses and their communities using the opportunity to not only offer promotions and discounts on said Saturday, but often all weekend long.

It is, of course, important to shop local throughout the year. For the money that we spend at our locally-owned businesses is much more likely to remain within and sustain the community.

And in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now more important than ever. According to the Small Business Saturday website, 62 percent of small businesses reported that consumer spending needs to return to pre-COVID levels before the end of the year for those businesses to stay open. Local communities and small businesses are pulling out all the stops to see that it happens as best they can.

In downtown Farmington, it’s a combination of government, independent merchants, and a unique partnership with a local technology company working together to drive consumer dollars downtown.

“The majority of people will shop online more than in the past for this year’s Christmas season,” Farmington Downtown Development Authority director Kate Knight says, citing COVID-19 concerns.

“But people are also determined to shop local.”

The goal, then, is to make it easier for people to do just that. As Knight says, the spirit of this year’s Small Business Saturday isn’t a day or even a weekend, but more like a whole week. Or, perhaps even more likely, an entire month.

Downtown Farmington has launched a new page on its website, providing shoppers updates to their favorite local businesses and each planned sale and special.

The DDA has also made free Downtown Farmington shopping totes, to be picked up at participating businesses while supplies last.

One of the most interesting developments to come about is the debut of a unique partnership between Main Street Oakland County and the Birmingham-based company StartupNation. And just in time for “Shop Small” season, too.

Among a select group of Main Street Oakland County communities, StartupNation has begun to roll out its ShopLoyal app, a shopping app that links customers directly with their favorite locally-owned businesses.

Downtown Farmington is one of the first on board.

“Main Street Oakland County is pleased to partner with Oakland County-based ShopLoyal to provide a unique online shopping outlet for consumers to stay connected to their small local businesses who need support now more than ever,” says John Bry, principal planner for Oakland County and program coordinator for Main Street Oakland County.

“If folks love their respective downtowns and the businesses located there, they need to think twice before they click on Amazon, and remember the power of keeping dollars local as the pandemic lingers.

“The Main Street Oakland County community Farmington stepped forward as one of the first major test cases of the ShopLoyal and ShopMainstreet effort that has been under development for almost two years.”

The app allows shop owners to communicate directly with their customers, limiting the need for users to search small business websites and social media for up-to-date information on sales and specials. Oftentimes, the businesses have special offers for their ShopLoyal customers, too.

That added line of direct communication could prove critical in connecting consumers with their local businesses.

ShopLoyal has launched in downtown Farmington“For customers, we know that the majority of people want to shop local this holiday season. This is a way to support your favorite local stores,” says Julie Sloan, merchant coordinator for ShopLoyal.

“For merchants, it’s a way to Teflon-coat and strengthen those relationships, to show appreciation for customer loyalty and send real-time special offers.”

Another aspect of the Farmington-Oakland County-ShopLoyal partnership that could become a difference-maker is the ShopMainstreet website.

As the threat of COVID-19 leads more and more people to shop online this year, small businesses that don’t have e-commerce options on their websites, or don’t have websites at all, are that much more likely to be left behind. ShopMainstreet changes that, providing an online marketplace for local merchants to sell their products.

“This is going to be something new to our customers, something other than social media,” says Larry Sallen, owner of Clothes Encounters of Farmington. Sallen says the store, which doesn’t have much of an e-commerce presence otherwise, will fully embrace the ShopMainstreet site and sell clothes online following the busy-ness of the holiday weekend.

“I think it’s going to be great. As more and more people become involved in the site, it becomes another avenue to reach customers.”

Farmington is the first community to join the website. The Oakland County Main Street communities of Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, and Holly aren’t far behind them. Given the newness of the site, users can expect a gradual roll-out of businesses utilizing the options available to them.

“Farmington has an incredible community of local business owners that network amongst each other, a diverse group of shops, and great downtown leadership,” Sloan says.

“Their enthusiasm is so rewarding. We’re so happy to be able to give business owners these tools.”

It’s important to note that a number of downtown businesses have yet to join the ShopLoyal and ShopMainstreet platforms, and those businesses each have their own slate of specials and shopping protocols entering the holiday shopping season. In-person shopping and curbside pick-up remain options for many.

For downtown, adding the online components, be it through social media, the downtown Farmington website, or the ShopLoyal and ShopMainstreet platforms, can only help.

“We know that people want to shop in downtown Farmington,” Kate Knight says.

“We just want to make it easier.”

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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