Fredericksburg’s Main Street program reflects on first year’s progress
Officials from the Fredericksburg Main Street Initiative met Thursday with downtown business leaders to share what was successful during its first year of promoting local businesses—and what wasn’t.
Main Street hired director Ann Glave in February and among her first public initiatives included stores staying open late on Fridays leading up to the holiday season, promoting Small Business Saturday, urging the use of social media and a downtown gift card program.
Small Business Saturday was the group’s biggest hit of 2014, Glave said.
The event, designed to attract shoppers downtown and help independent businesses compete with major chain stores’ Black Friday deals, was celebrated with early store openings, red carpets outside of storefronts and coffee for early shoppers.
Glave said shoppers reported going into some stores for the first time and stores reported 30 to 300 percent increases in sales compared to the same day the previous year.
FILE/SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Fred Wellman, who owns Ladyburg in downtown Fredericksburg with wife Crystal Wellman, said his store doubled its sales that day.
“It was huge for us,” he said. “It shows what we can do if we all pull together There’s real untapped potential to create a commerce center.”
Rich Newpher of Commonwealth Lighting also shared that his business saw increased sales on Small Business Saturday.
“It’s a big thing for Fredericksburg,” he said. “We’ve been here for a long time and are focusing on our showroom more.”
The business also won Main Street’s “Window Wonderland” contest for the best store window. Commonwealth Lighting chose to donate its winnings back into the Main Street fund.
Glave found the stores that did the best in Small Business Saturday were not typically discount-driven. Those who offered small discounts that were atypical for their businesses, as well as those that opened earlier, fared best.
Dog Krazy, she said, did as much business as it would on a typical Saturday in its first two hours that day.
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The downtown gift card promotion also did well in 2014.
During the 3 weeks the cards were sold at a 20 percent discount, which was made possible by an Economic Development Authority grant, Main Street sold $50,000 worth of gift cards. After that, another $25,000 was sold.
And $4,000 of those sales were online, which Glave said she wants to see more of next year.
The average sale was between $15 and $75. The largest week for sales totaled $9,000 in gift cards.
The Fredericksburg Main Street initiative is a non-profit organization affiliated with state and national programs. Its sole purpose is to preserve, enhance and promote Fredericksburg’s traditional commercial downtown.
A meeting in February will be held by the Main Street board to further improve the program.
Main Street also offered “Open Late Fridays,” during which retailers agreed to open late on Fridays leading up to Christmas.
About 65 businesses participated, flying yellow “Open Late” flags outside of their shops.
November turned out to be busier than December for that promotion, which Glave said is because of three rainy, cold Fridays in December that kept people indoors.
She said businesses found that the hours of 5 p.m. through 7 p.m. were slow, but business picked up toward 8 p.m.
Shops that turned the most profit from the promotion offered extras for patrons such as coffee or an event, she said.
During “Open Late Fridays” local museums were opened free of charge, as well.
She said the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop had the best attendance, with 126 visitors. Others struggled to get visitors in late.
The “Eflie Selfie” promotion was also not as well received, she said.
There were 75 submission for the contest, during which people took “selfies” outside of participating stores and uploaded them onto the Fredericksburg Main Street Facebook page for a chance at prizes.
Of the 50 stores that participated, 31 were mentioned through these posts.
Glave said if it’s offered again next years, she thinks the initiative should be less complicated.
She also hopes to offer social media classes to local businesses to get them engaged with customers through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
While the majority of stores saw up to a 30 percent increase in sales during the most recent holiday season, she said that wasn’t the case for all businesses downtown.
Some art galleries, antique stores and clothiers saw a decrease in sales this year.
Scarlett Pons, board president of Fredericksburg Main Street, updated attendees on what the group will be doing in the next year.
Pons said Main Street will hold its first board retreat to enhance its initiatives, empower its committees to start their own projects, attend the National Main Street conference and hire a branding firm.
In Fredericksburg, promotions committee chairman and owner of Skin + Touch Therapy, Brian Lam is launching a #lovefxbg event.
People can use the hashtag on social media to share what they love about downtown leading up to Valentine’s Day, and businesses can use the hashtag to promote specials for the holiday.
Main Street is also launching a business book club in 2015.
Original article via the Free Lance-Star