Holiday Shopping, Wrapped Up
Downtown Madison Merchants Re-Cap Christmas Aales
Story by Whitney Skeeters
Downtown merchants reported higher sales than expected during the holiday season despite the economy, but there was mixed feedback as to the success of the new Home for the Holidays marketing campaign.
According to Madison Main Street Coordinator Ann Huff, merchants could definitely feel the squeeze of the tight economy, but most fared well over the past couple of months.
"It was a kind of different holiday season. Everyone expected the sales to be down, but most were pleasantly surprised," Huff said.
She said the number of crowds hadn't changed, but as many shoppers were more disciplined in their spending, nearly all of the merchants reported at least a small drop in sales from previous years.
Although the business owners have been positive about the overall success of the season, there has been disagreement as to the effect this year's joint marketing campaign had on the sales.
Rhonda Irwin, co-owner of Laughing Moon and In High Cotton, said that both of her shops had a great Christmas season, but she was disappointed that they did not have an actual Christmas Open House as in years past.
"I had several people come in and ask about the open house," Irwin said. "I think they like that as an actual weekend event, they use it as a get-away event."
She said both stores will probably go back to hosting holiday open houses in early November.
Madison Markets owner Jane Royal said even though she did not see the high dollar sales they saw last year, she still had about the same number of customers. Royal was excited about the general atmosphere this season.
"I think Madison was so vibrant this year," Royal said. "People came to the store excited. They heard we were going to be open late and heard about our Christmas campaign, and that is what they wanted to do. They brought the whole family."
She said many of the customers traveled to Madison for a day trip. Madison Markets was open late throughout the holidays and would often have customers stay until closing. Having stores within walking distance of hers that stayed open late also really made a difference. She heard a lot of positive feedback from customers who saw the recent commercial about the city and believes it reached a lot of people.
Joe Houston, owner of Creative Mark, did not participate in the consolidated campaign, but did say that local dollars helped him this season.
"We were pleased to see that our regular customers continued to support us and that helped make for a decent season for us," said Houston.
Jon Tonge, owner of Dog-Ear Books, was one of the few merchants who could say he did better this season than last season.
"We had a lot of local support. People came in and said that if they couldn't buy something downtown, then they wouldn't buy it at all," said Tonge. "We did well because of that. We are very grateful for the support."
This interest in shopping locally was bolstered by the campaign's message of supporting your home town and keeping your dollars in Morgan County. Tonge said the campaign worked really well for him and the events he held during November and December helped keep the shop on people's minds.
Heather Whidby echoes Tonge's praises of the campaign. Whidby Jewelers relies mostly on customers within a 45-60 mile radius and the longer campaign suited them more than the concentration on the two-day weekend.
"It was a much better spend of the money, especially for us. We gave out two gift certificates for the campaign and both led to two new customers," Whidby said.
Michelle Robinette said the sales at Mulberry Toys were much higher than last year, but she is not sure if the campaign was the cause. The move in location and the successful launch of their online store were the two biggest impacts on her holiday season. Because she could not ask each customer, they have no real way to judge if the campaign also contributed.
Although Huff has heard a variety of responses, she believes most merchants were pleased with the campaign and that a similar one will be held again next season.
"I think we did the right thing at the right time," said Huff. "Most of them said they would like to keep it as a two month promotion, but they may pick one weekend to do something really special."
Huff will meet with the owners to further discuss the season at the end of the month and start thinking of what will be done differently next year. She said both the economy and the city of Madison are changing, and merchants need to be on top of what consumers want.
"You have to be a savvier marketing person. Madison is getting bigger and everyone is competing for the same dollar right now," Huff said. "You've got to stretch your media and advertising dollars as far as you can, from radio, to TV, to Internet."
The Chamber of Commerce and Main Street are working together to offer merchants a five-week marketing course, which will start Wednesday, January 14.
Hear what merchants had to say..
"I think Madison was so vibrant this year. People came to the store excited. They heard we were going to be open late and heard about our Christmas campaign, and that is what they wanted to do. They brought the whole family."
- Jane Royal
"We had a lot of local support. People came in and said that if they couldn't buy something downtown, then they wouldn't buy it at all. We did well because of that. We are very grateful for the support."
- Jon Tonge
"We were pleased to see that our regular customers continued to support us and that helped make for a decent season for us."
- Joe Houston
"It was a kind of different holiday season. Everyone expected the sales to be down, but most were pleasantly surprised."
- Ann Huff
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Published in the January 15 edition.