Look around your favorite Haddon Avenue shops these days, and you might be surprised at what’s in their inventories.
It’s not that they’re carrying anything unusual. But they are carrying more and different items, sharing more products among themselves, and fitting out their displays with products from their neighbors.
Like that mint green dress that perfectly matches the swing-arm lamp in the window of Dig This? Surprise, it’s from Frugal Resale (whose monthly ladies night is catered by neighbors at Casona and The Candy Jar).
Picking up a bottle or two of olive oil at Blue Moon? You might also go home with a handmade dipping tray produced by local artist Eric Wolff.
This kind of cross-promotion helps sustain the flow of business in the borough, and keeps more shoppers lingering for even a moment longer in the doldrums of winter.
It’s also an example of how the “swim together, drown together environment” of foot traffic in the borough requires a bit of innovative thinking, says Dig This owner Reed Orem.
'A conversation that helps both our businesses'
“There are days when it’s dead on the Avenue, and those are the days when we should all be thinking about how to change that,” Orem said, “whether it be better hours, more promotions, more sales, or something that we haven’t even thought of yet.
“Morgan [Robinson, of Frugal Resale] and I, we’re friends, but we also own businesses," Orem said. "If I have something that’ll augment the look of her place and vice versa, why not? As far as restaurants and the other businesses, we’re all in this town together.”
Orem said it all starts by having “a conversation that helps both our businesses,” and cautions that there’s no cross-promotion that will help everyone. Still, he said, whether it's something as simple as a shout-out to local plumbers or electricians when he meets people who are new to town, businesses can always help each other out.
Robinson acknowledges that running a storefront can be “so all-consuming that you don’t make time for interesting ideas with other businesses,” but said that there’s lots of stuff that happens “behind the scenes” among business owners in town.
Shopkeepers just have to be open to new ideas besides just “turn your sign to open and cross your fingers,” she said.
Although she’s new to the borough business district, Cyndi Zippilli of The American Table said greater coordination seems to be the key to driving new foot traffic. She sees lots of untapped potential for things like in-store tastings, consigned merchandise or even just joint advertising and social media promotion.
“Between Facebook and some of the free and inexpensive methods, if we all did it together…as a new business, word of mouth is the key,” Zippilli said.
“Providing good service, it starts there. If people like you and are satisfied, they’re going to spread the word. The more people we have walk in the door, the better.”
'Wearing every possible hat'
To a person, all three agreed that the toughest things to coordinate are meet-ups among business owners. Quarterly meetings of the Collingswood business improvement district (BID) members aren’t enough to keep things fresh, Zippilli said.
“I feel like the borough does a lot to bring people into this town,” she said. “Other than that, it’s up to you to market your business. You need to figure out whatever works for you, and every business may be different.
"Part of being in business for yourself is trying to make it, reach out, make connections, get an audience,” she said.
Robinson agreed, adding that the variety of events hosted in Collingswood typically helps her generate new and different shopping traffic.
“If you plunked me down without knowing what day it was, I could tell you what day it was based on the customers,” she said. “The Arts and Crafts Fair versus the Book Fair versus the May Fair? Those are different customers. If 1 percent finds its way in here and half of them spend a little bit of money, I’ve crushed it.”
Cassandra Duffey, Community Development Coordinator for Collingswood, said that both the BID and the borough recognize that time is precious among business owners, and that anything they can do to mobilize their own resources is excellent.
“The small business owner is wearing every possible hat,” Duffey said. “We have quarterly BID meetings, but we’ve also done marketing expos and get-together events. We’ve had ones that were well attended and ones that were not so well attended.
Duffey mentioned that some of the best arrangements spring up on an impromptu basis. A particularly rough storm a few years back led All Fired Up and Verde to partner on a snow day special. Knowing that kids would be home from school and that lots of moms would be home with then, the LumberYard neighbors offered joint discounts for manicures or pedicures and pottery painting.
“That kind of stuff is awesome,” Duffey said.
“It’s wonderful when business owners are thinking up original ideas because nobody who works for the BID is in their store every day. I don’t know what stock they have; maybe their clientele has changed. When they can do things that help, specific to their business, it’s great.”