Busi­ness: A look at some of the best deals on Black Fri­day.

SMALL RE­TAIL­ERS AROUND THE COUN­TRY AIM FOR EMO­TIONAL TIES SOME BIG CHAINS MAY LACK

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Joyce M. Rosen­berg

NEWYORK » Some smaller re­tail­ers will tug at shop­pers’ heart­strings dur­ing the hol­i­days, try­ing to cre­ate an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence or con­nec­tion that a big na­tional chain might not pro­vide.

Store own­ers are go­ing well be­yond the usual hol­i­day dec­o­ra­tions and mu­sic. Among their plans: Par­ties where the fo­cus is fundrais­ing rather than prof­its, events with other stores to en­cour­age shop­pers to visit them all, and per­sonal ser­vices like mer­chan­dise de­liv­er­ies. The re­tail­ers are bet­ting that their ef­forts — which for some are a year-round strat­egy — will keep cus­tomers shop­ping long af­ter the hol­i­day sea­son.

John Du­das, who co- owns Carol & John’s Comic Book Shop in Cleve­land, par­tic­i­pated in Lo­cal Comic Shop Day, which he calls the comic

book in­dus­try’s equiv­a­lent of Black Fri­day. Peo­ple lined up out­side the store for lim­ited- edi­tion comics, and had a great time while they waited.

“They get to hang out with like-minded peo­ple,” says Du­das, who es­ti­mates he made one- and- a- half times the sales he would see on a good Satur­day.

Cre­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and an emo­tional con­nec­tion will help cus­tomers feel like they’re get­ting more value from a re­tailer — and that they’re be­ing val­ued and ap­pre­ci­ated in re­turn, says Syama Meagher, CEO of the Los An­ge­les-based con­sult­ing firm Scal­ing Re­tail. Small and in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers have a greater abil­ity to cre­ate a bond with shop­pers than larger com­peti­tors, she says.

Meagher’s ad­vice for store own­ers: “Don’t think about your cus­tomer as some­one who’s go­ing to buy some­thing.”

Du­das has more events planned, in­clud­ing a sale start­ing on Black Fri­day dur­ing which he ex­pects to sell 80,000 comic books at $1 each. And on Dec. 16, he’ll hold a party with artists draw­ing pic­tures of comic book fans. But Du­das won’t look for a profit that day— he’ll be rais­ing funds for a lo­cal char­ity, some­thing he does pe­ri­od­i­cally. In Septem­ber, the store had a fundraiser in cel­e­bra­tion of the 100th an­niver­sary of the birth of Jack Kirby, cocre­ator of Cap­tain Amer­ica. These events help-Du­das to ex­pand his cus­tomer base.

“Put your­self into the com­mu­nity more and the money will come back to you,” he says.

In­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers in Port­land, Ore­gon, take part in Lit­tle Boxes, an an­nual al­ter­na­tive to shop­ping at big-box na­tional chains that of­fer big dis­counts dur­ing the en­tire Thanks­giv­ing week­end. Started in 2011, Lit­tle Boxes gives shop­pers the chance to win raf­fle prizes ac­cord­ing to how many pur­chases they make at par­tic­i­pat­ing stores. In its first year, there were 90 stores; this year there will be about 250.

Debbe Ha­mada, whose gift shop Tilde is par­tic­i­pat­ing, sees shop­pers mak­ing an ex­pe­di­tion out of go­ing to Lit­tle Box stores, us­ing an app to help them find as many as pos­si­ble. Many peo­ple want to sup­port lo­cal re­tail­ers — the event over­laps with Small Busi­ness Satur­day — and aim to visit as many as 10 or 20 in a day, she says.

“It’s a real ex­pe­ri­ence — peo­ple are re­ally happy that day,” says Ha­mada, whose Black Fri­day sales have risen be­tween 5 per­cent and 20 per­cent each year since Lit­tle Boxes be­gan. The day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing has gone from one of the slow­est days to one of big­gest days of the sea­son, she says.

Diane Roth uses ser­vice all year long to cre­ate a con­nec­tion with cus­tomers. The owner of cloth­ing bou­tique L’Ar­moire in New Canaan, Con­necti­cut, Roth acts as­much a concierge as a re­tailer. She’ll al­low cus- tomers to take sev­eral gar­ments home to try on — or she’ll send the clothes to their houses. She’ll open as early as 5 a.m. so peo­ple can drop off un­wanted items on their way to the nearby com­muter train sta­tion. Cus­tomers send her pho­tos of some­thing they like, and ask her to find some­thing sim­i­lar.

“I have a lot of ex­ec­u­tive women cus­tomers who don’t have time,” Roth says. “I’m like a per­sonal as­sis­tant.”

These ser­vices have helped Roth be less de­pen­dent on hol­i­day shop­ping— un­like many re­tail­ers who ex­pect to make up to half their an­nual rev­enue be­tween Thanks­giv­ing and Dec. 31. But Roth will have some events for the holi- days, in­clud­ing bring­ing in a jew­eler to help cus­tomers learn more about pieces they own, what they’re worth and how they should be worn. She’s also cre­at­ing a gift sec­tion with col­lectibles and other mer­chan­dise she doesn’t usu­ally carry.

“It gives peo­ple an­other rea­son to shop,” Roth says.

Pig­ment, a gift shop in San Diego, pro­vides ac­tiv­i­ties for its shop­pers — some tied to its mer­chan­dise, and some just for the fun of it, op­er­a­tions man­ager Tif­fany Moore says. It starts out­side the store, where a wall painted in grad­u­ated shades of pink is a fa­vorite spot for peo­ple to take pho­tos of them­selves. In­side Pig­ment, there’s a photo booth where shop- pers can take pic­tures to im­me­di­ately post on­line. Peo­ple are hav­ing a good time, and the pho­tos help in­crease the store’s so­cial me­dia pres­ence, Moore says.

“Peo­ple who are shop­ping al­ready no­tice the photo booth and say, ‘ This is cool,’” she says. “Oth­ers know it ex­ists be­cause a friend posts a photo on In­sta­gram and they say, ‘I want to go to that store.”

On some Satur­days, as many as 100 peo­ple might get pho­tos taken, Moore says. Mean­while, other shop­pers might be pot­ting plants — the store’s mer­chan­dise in­cludes a large se­lec­tion of plants, and cus­tomers can se­lect their own and a con­tainer, get free pot­ting soil and a trowel and cre­ate their own ar­range­ments.

Some on­line re­tail­ers look for ways to cre­ate an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence even with­out a phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion. Love Your Melon ad­ver­tises on its web­site that it do­nates half the prof­its from its sales of woolen bean­ies and other cloth­ing, and gives sur­prise gifts to its big shop­pers. The com­pany do­nated more than $400,000 from last year’s Thanks­giv­ing week­end, and this year’s goal is $1 mil­lion, in­clud­ing Cy­ber Mon­day sales, to be given to pe­di­atric can­cer re­search, owner Zachary Quinn says.

Peo­ple post­ing com­ments on the Min­neapolis­based com­pany’s Face­book page men­tion that help­ing chil­dren with can­cer is one rea­son why they’ve bought from Love Your Melon.

“Cus­tomers feel like they’re part of the story,” Quinn says.

PHO­TOS BY TONY DEJAK — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

John Du­das, owner of Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop, poses in the store ear­lier this month in Cleve­land. Du­das re­cently par­tic­i­pated in Lo­cal Comic Shop Day, which he calls the comic book in­dus­try’s equiv­a­lent of Black Fri­day.

Christy Abu­la­ban and Ab­ner Ron­don take some time to look over the new re­leases at Carol & John’s Comic Book Shop ear­lier this month.

TONY DEJAK — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cus­tomers browse for comic books dur­ing New Comic Day at Carol & John’s Comic Book Shop in Cleve­land. Peo­ple lined up out­side the store for lim­ited-edi­tion comics, and had a great time while they waited.

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