Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to the beach. It was about an 8 hour drive, so there was plenty of time to notice how different businesses marketed themselves. Along Highway 231, the route we (mostly) took, there are all sorts of little businesses – fruit stands, gift shops, gas stations, garden centers, restaurants, museums and so on.
For years, there have been fewer independent restaurants along this route as they have been replaced by chains. But even as the food choices have become unbearably consistent, the flea markets, curio shops and boiled peanut stands seemed to have thrived. Not so this year.
There were broken down wooden tables and abandoned buildings from Montgomery southward. It is sad, and makes me nostalgic, but also curious. What happened? Did the people who ran the stands get tired? Find “real” jobs? Get too old? Stop making enough money to make it worthwhile?
Since we were headed to the Gulf Coast, there is also the possibility that enough people didn’t make the trip this year because of the oil spill to hurt all the roadside stands and stores. Or that the recession took its toll.
I also wonder if a different kind of marketing could have saved some of those businesses. My favorite highway style marketing is the placement of small signs every 100 yards or so for a couple of miles before the store. You read them as you are driving and they are usually kind of funny: 1.Out of cash? 2. Not too drastic 3.We take plastic. In fact, the one store we saw using that marketing method was thriving.
The shoe store that must have spent thousands of dollars on billboards – there was one at least every mile or two in both directions for maybe 50 or 60 miles – bored me, but a friend stopped and bought some shoes on his way, so maybe that is effective too.
My guess is that using social media marketing may have helped some of these businesses survive. There are lots of families who make the trip to the coast annually and stop at their favorite places along the way. A monthly newsletter that tells what’s happening at different times of the year, how the area is dealing with disasters, offering discounts for visits at certain times could only help. Something like that might even motivate someone to make a quick trip at a time they don’t usually.
People who vacation at the beach would probably appreciate a reminder of their vacations past and present during the dreary winter months. Offering a special for February vacationers might entice them to stop when they otherwise wouldn’t. The idea behind social media marketing is to build a relationship with your customers, and if these small, independent roadside stands had stronger relationships with the travelers on Hwy. 231, it could only help – the customers would feel less transient and more like old friends.