By STEVEN NALLEY
With 15 shopping days remaining before Christmas, Starkville vendors are finding success with sales-boosting programs of their own making as well as those established by such organizations as the Starkville Main Street Association and the Starkville Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
Jennifer Gregory, SMSA manager and vice president for tourism development with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said sales tax revenue from the CVB’s Holiday Bazaar surpassed that of last year despite having 18 fewer vendors. By capping the amount of vendor spaces at a lower number, Gregory said, the CVB was able to add a center aisle and six feet to the aisle around the perimeter, giving shoppers more room to walk and explore vendor booths.
“Re-doing the layout helped so much, and we received nothing but positive feedback from vendors and shoppers,” Gregory said. “There were nearly $70,000 in sales reported during the two-day period.”
A new program from SMSA for this year is Secret Santa, which uses Quick Response codes to surprise shoppers with varying discounts when tags are scanned.
“One of the cool things about using the QR code on the tags is that we can track how many people have scanned the tags,” Gregory said. “So far, in about two weeks, we’ve had nearly 300 scans on the various QR codes. That’s a great number for us, and we think it will continue to increase closer to Christmas.”
Foley Holditch is the co-owner of Thyme, one of 19 SMSA members participating in Secret Santa. Holditch said Secret Santa has worked out well for Thyme so far, given that the program is only in its first year.
“I think people are still finding out about it,” Holditch said. “Things aren’t, I guess, flying off the shelves, but we have had some interest.”
Gregory said Secret Santa has gradually gained momentum since it began the week of Thanksgiving.
“It’s taken shoppers and retailers a little while to understand exactly what the program is all about, but it’s really picked up over the last week or so once retailers have started doing their own publicity for the program,” Gregory said. “Some of the retailers are using Twitter and Facebook to show pictures of items in their store that are included in the program. Most stores are rotating the tags onto different items every week.”
Retailers, including Holditch and Thyme, are also finding success independent from programs like Secret Santa.
“We had a big sidewalk sale last weekend, actually, and we had items marked down as much as 80 percent,” Holditch said. “We had a lot of foot traffic that day. This is our first year to be in this location, so it’s been really nice.”
Nicole Cain, owner of Indigo’s clothing store at College Park on Russell Street, offered the store’s Twitter followers exclusive discounts of 50 percent from 10 a.m. to noon Friday. As a result, she said, the store had up to 10 people in it at a time, and the most popular gift wasn’t hanging on any rack.
“We sold a lot of gift certificates instead of a lot of clothes,” Cain said. “It’s easier to get a gift certificate if you’re getting it for somebody else. You don’t know what they want, or somebody might not know their size.”
Gregory said local shopping is important for the community, especially during the holiday season, because it generates taxes the city needs to provide crucial services.
“Starkville is so fortunate to have a great variety of boutiques, gift stores and other specialty stores, not to mention restaurants, that provide great options for holiday shopping,” Gregory said. “Additionally, several retailers that you wouldn’t normally think of (as) a place to do holiday shopping have gotten creative and started offering products for the holidays. Strange Brew Coffeehouse is a great local business that has a wonderful selection of flavored coffee packaged available for purchase. We know that shoppers might not be able to purchase everything they’ll ever need right here in Starkville, but shopping locally first is a huge step towards continuing to boost our local economy.”