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Enticing customers back to seasonal businesses

Nicole Glasser of Bellmore is a coach with

Nicole Glasser of Bellmore is a coach with Huntington Stand Up Paddle, which offers an early-bird incentive where some customers can buy a discounted membership.  Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Seasonal businesses only have a small window to generate their revenue, so the more customers they can entice back the better.

 Of course, kicking up marketing efforts and incentives to lure them should begin well in advance.

“Given the limited sales cycle for a seasonal business, it’s critical that business owners engage in a dialogue with their customers even before the season begins, to stay top of mind,” says Beth Goldstein, founder of Massachusetts-based Edge Institute, which trains and advises small businesses. 

Optimally they should be communicating with customers even in the offseason, perhaps even with an email newsletter that could provide tips, she says.

“If they know who their customers are and what they care about, they can still continue a dialogue so their value doesn’t fade,” says Goldstein, author of "Lucky By Design: Navigating Your Path To Success" (Dog Ear Publishing; $18.95).

To bring them back you might offer a discount, early-bird promotion or some other incentive, she says.

That’s what Huntington Stand Up Paddle does. Typically until Memorial Day weekend it offers an early-bird incentive where customers can buy a membership for paddle boarding and/or kayaking for $300 for the entire season rather than $150 per month. The season usually runs from May through October, says Katie Buttine, who owns the business with her husband, Rich.

She says it “gives us a little bit of money in the bank before we’re in full swing” and helps to bring return customers, which represent more than half of their customer base.

Try to personalize these type of offers to your customers even recognizing the change of season, says Jack Mandel, an East Norwich marketing consultant and a retail and marketing professor at Nassau Community College in Garden City.

Something like, "Hey [customer’s name] winter is over and we want you to spring into savings,'' and then offer some kind of incentive or coupon, he says. Or send an invite to a season reopening with light refreshments partnering with a local bakery or vendor.

It’s important during the season to collect customer email addresses so you can reach out to them directly, he says. “Most businesses don’t build up their customer database, and this is a serious mistake.”

You can also use social media to build momentum into the season.

Amusement parks do this with sneak peeks of new rides under construction, says Martin Lewison, an assistant professor of business management and marketing at Farmingdale State College. And a restaurant can tease its audience with photos of a renovation. “It keeps people engaged,” he says.

It makes sense to start promotions on reopening four to six weeks in advance of your high season, says Lewison. Maybe offer a freebie to come on opening night.

The Whales Tale in Northport, open from around February through November, has been offering a sneak peek of renovations on its social media pages to create excitement, says owner Sosh Andriano. In the offseason the size of the bar was tripled, an extra restroom was added and the menu was expanded.

“We’re going into our 10th year, and we felt it was time for a face-lift,” he says.

They typically try to do something new each year, and opening the craft brewery Harbor Head Brewing Co. a few feet from the restaurant also has helped bring in more business.

Bottom line: “You need to get customers to engage with you very quickly, “ says Goldstein. “It’s really imperative they know how to make connections with customers.”

Fast Fact:

It pays to bring back repeat customers given that it can cost 5 to 25 times more for a business to acquire a new customer vs. retaining an existing one.

Source: Harvard Business Review

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