A very good friend of mine is relaunching her seasonal store in San Francisco this fall. It’s a really great non-profit business that sells items made by local artists. I talked to her the other day and was trying to convince her that even though the store is local, she should try to use some free online tools out there to help publicize her business online.
Some of these items are specific to the store I’m helping, but others are applicable to any local store. I’ve listed my recommendations in priority order and I can help you with most of the below if you like.
Cheap and Easy
Your current website is great, but I bet it is hard to update and may not get updated as often as you’d like. Setting up a blog is relatively simple to do and with your down time through the week, you could use your spare time to write about items in the store. Also, write a little profile for the artists/crafters that you feature (or better yet, ask the artists to do this for you). A blog is a great way to both show off what you are selling in-store, but also a way to attract other artist’s to sell their work as well.
Your blog also serves as a good place for people to ask you questions, for reporters to gather info about your store and best of all, other folks to link to you. Blogs tend to get more Google love, so hopefully, it brings you more customers.
Make sure that your store has a listing in all the local search engines like Yelp, Yahoo, Google, CitySearch, and Judy’s Book. Asking customers to review your store on these sites post purchase probably wouldn’t hurt. Search engines are devoting a lot of effort into these areas and you can only assume that they (at least the bigger ones) are getting a lot of traffic.
Photograph everything that comes into the store and post lower resolution images (ie not printable) of the items that are for sale. I know there may be some sensitivity surrounding artist’s work, so make sure they know (and are ok with) you posting pix online. Tag all the images that you upload with your store name and thoroughly tag what they are and who they came from. This will help folks find either the artist or the work in the future.
Also, use Flickr to post pictures from the launch party, (which is something you would probably do anyway). Encourage other photographers to tag their Flickr images with your store’s name. This will help create a larger pool of pictures.
A little sidebar – a good way to make your products look good is to use a lightbox when photographing them. Here’s a link to make a cheap one.
Create a MySpace profile for your store. Add all of the artists that you work with as your friends. Join groups and post on forums that make sense for your business. I know that many of your artists have a presence on MySpace and promoting your store and artists in MySpace will get those crazy teens in your store. Seriously, tho, MySpace has helped many a business get going moving product and it’s not outside the norms of MySpace, nor is it against their TOS. And hey, no web design chops necessary ;-).
A little more work and expense
Etsy is a great online marketplace for handmade goods online. Create a store to help sell and promote your artists stuff online. I know that the focus of your store is selling local stuff locally, but ultimately, you are the artists agent, and I’m not sure they really care where it is sold, so long as they are putting food on the table. Etsy just did a great promotion with the upcoming Craft magazine from O’Reilly (another great resource to check out).
Build a virtual store on Second Life. Ok, this one is a bit more difficult and might take an actual programmer, but a lot of your locals spend time on Second Life and people are spending real money on Second Life. If any of your artists are virtual, perhaps you could get them to sell their virtual goods in your virtual store. The options are virtually limitless. This is one you’d have to find someone else to help (I know a guy).
In the interest of full disclosure, one thing I would recommend is that you should make sure that artists that sell through your store should know what you are planning on doing with their work. You can decide whether to let them opt out of the program, but ultimately, these recommendations can be great ways to promote both your store and the artists.
Ok, that’s my top level view. Any questions?