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Small business owners and chamber of commerce directors discuss the high holiday stakes for retailers

Small business owners on the North Shore say the trick to turn the holidays from a make-or-break season into the icing on the cake for a successful year is simple: customer service.

Small Business Saturday, which fell on Nov. 24 this year, is a well-promoted boost into the holidays. But owners like Robin Keighley of Flowers by Lorraine in Lynn say they pull out all of the stops to succeed during the holiday season.

Keighley uses Instagram and Facebook as well as other social media to drive business into the store at Flint and Boston streets.

“I’m constantly marketing,” she said. “I’m always putting the word out there.”

Four Winds owner Patrick DeBoever said his pub and grill on Sluice Pond logged its best summer ever. But with fall comes a 40 percent, even 50 percent, drop in business compared to summer.

Four Winds will host many holiday parties on its heated porch and its staff of 40 summer employees, many of them college students, is reduced to 17 during winter.

Chamber of commerce directors said the key for making December a success is for small businesses to collaborate.

The Revere Chamber of Commerce teamed with city employees on Small Business Saturday and visited dozens of business owners. They listened to their concerns and complaints and helped identify ways to maximize business.

“We spent four hours all over the city, stopping in even to just meet an owner and say, ‘We realize you are the lifeblood of the city’s economy,'” said Chamber Executive Director Wendy Millar-Page.

She said small businesses need to do well during the holidays to help survive the slower months. Millar-Page urged holiday shoppers to set a goal this season of buying at least three gifts from a small business.

Denise Selden, Saugus Chamber of Commerce board of directors chairman, said the customer service provided by small retailers can’t be matched in a big chain store.

“There is something special and thoughtful about picking out that one unique gift for someone and getting to know your local businesses on a personal level,” she said.

Selden and Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jenna Coccimiglio agreed that focus on the customer and unique and varied products set small businesses apart from larger stores, especially during the holidays.

The Peabody Chamber helps amplify small business success through promotions including its consumer-facing website, PeabodyAreaHasit.com; Holiday Hot Deal promotions, public listing on the chamber website, email blasts and strong social media.

“Just using one social media platform, like Facebook, isn’t going to provide the level of exposure needed to entice shoppers away from the convenience of online buying,” said Coccimiglio.

Keighley said the boost in gift-giving and parties during the holidays doesn’t automatically translate into more people walking into her flower shop. Part of her job, she said, is educating customers to shop locally to get the service attention and assurances their order will be filled to their specifications.

Mother and daughter business partners Katerina and Ana Nenshati operate Kats Boutique in Swampscott. Its success rests, in part, on supporting other small businesses like signmaker Chrissy Lebel of Lynn. They showcased musicians last Sunday at their 212 Humphrey St. shop and go the extra mile to support local designers.

Since opening in 2015, Katerina said the pair have noticed a “slow but steady increase in business.”

“We work so hard throughout the year to make each month December and we emphasize to our customers the importance of shopping small,” Ana Nenshati said.

Lisa Larocca strives to send the same message to customers walking into Scout & Molly’s at MarketStreet in Lynnfield. Like the Nenshatis, Larocca tries to elevate shopping in her boutique to an immersion into fashion tailored to each customer.

Scout & Molly’s has hosted “pop up” events featuring local artisans with designers showcasing their wares in the store on Sundays Dec. 9 and Dec. 16.

“Our expectations are pretty strong going into the holidays,” Larocca said.

Stowaway Sweets owner Emily DeWitt can’t catch a breath between filling orders in her Marblehead candy shop. December, said husband, Don, is the icing on the cake for the 90-plus-year-old business.

The holidays mark the start of a sweet trifecta for Stowaway that includes Easter and Mother’s Day spending. But the company’s sweet success is still grounded in a small business reality.

“It’s all about customer service, about making the moment they come into the store the best it can be,” said Don DeWitt.

Coccimiglio said small business owners who find ways to support other small businesses and use social media to amplify the customer service and attention they offer can prosper during the holidays and into the new year.

“Consistency, creativity and variety are key to continue the shop small momentum,” she said.

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