Maintaining customer engagement as a seasonal small business

Sauble Trading Post    October 13, 2014

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Title of Post:  Maintaining customer engagement as a seasonal small business

Organization Name:  Sauble Trading Post – Ice Cream Parlour and General Store

Industry: Tourism Sector Retail

Name of Contact:  Kim Mizen, Owner

Web References:


How do we create greater customer loyalty, retention and devotion to a product using social media? This is the key question for small businesses, but how do you maintain customer relationships when you are a seasonal business in a tourist destination? The Sauble Trading Post is one of Ontario’s many small businesses that open on Victoria Day Weekend and close in the autumn.  Social media provides connectivity to maintain customer relationships even after the doors close.

Fox Small Business Centre in Vermont highlights how seasonal businesses in tourist destinations can maintain their customer relationships using social media as a way to connect even after the doors close.  “Just because businesses close their doors, it doesn’t mean they also shut off customer engagement. Instead, seasonal small businesses are turning to Facebook, a virtual, year-round, weatherproof storefront. Owners used to rely on snail mail to keep their businesses in the back of consumers’ minds, but social media is cheaper and allows for a real-time, more intimate interaction”.

Fox profiles  small businesses in Cape Cod and shares how they are making their brand known through social media. One case study is Four Seas Ice Cream in Cape Cod, New England. Four Seas was built in 1934 and claims to be the third oldest ice cream shop in New England.  The historic ice cream shop made its Facebook debut in 2009.  Four Seas uses social media to maintain year round presence. They run contents and polls on their 4Seas Facebook page to seek customer input on the flavours of sorbet they would like to enjoy the next summer. They post old photos and ask people to tag them which involves past employees and customers engaging with the shop in the “off-season”.  This approach is building loyalty in the customer base and reaching out via social media even when the store is closed.

Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlours is another example of a business using social media to engage customers and keep customers thinking about the brand outside of the store doors.  Like many retailers, the company long relied on traditional advertising to spread the word. But a YouTube video featuring an ice cream eating contents reminds customers that Farrell’s is the place where “old-time memories for a new generation are made every day”.  Farrell’s runs contests to keep customer thinking about the product offered by the business.

The Sauble Trading Post is a historic business that has been in operation on the shores of Lake Huron since 1934. Similar to Four Seas, we created a Facebook page in 2010.  Four years later, the Sauble Trading Post is just beginning to build an on-line presence.  According to Matthew Latkiewicz from Mashable, there are five different types of customer engagement styles that business adopt as they engage in their social media activity.  The research states that consistency is important in the style that is adopted. In 1961, the local Owen Sound Sun Times described the store as the “heart and nerve centre of the summer community”, which aligns well with “The Friend” engagement style.

“The Friend” engagement style is good for small businesses that will use the social media presence as an extension to the face-to-face relationship. “The Friend” is a great way to describe the Sauble Trading Post. It is a place where the 8:00 AM “Coffee Club” congregates to start the day and it is the place where families come to enjoy an ice cream cone and watch the sunset.  The store is the neighbourhood meeting place for customers of all generations.  “The Friend” engagement style is the “in store” approach and will be consistently adopted for the on-line presence.

Lessons Learned from Others: 

In the winter, the owners of the Sauble Trading Post take photos of our customers cottages and them post them on the store bulletin board for the cottagers to see in May. Using the lesson learned from Four Seas, we can use social media to upload the photos to the Facebook page, invite fans or friends to share the photos with the owner of the cottage and engage with our customers in the “off-season”.  It will link the Sauble Trading Post to customers year round and increase “loyalty” to our business.

CUSTOMER INPUT WANTED:  2015 Sauble Trading Post radio advertising will be based on Van Halen’s Ice Cream Man. What comments do you have?

Other interesting web posts:

Seasonal Small Businesses Using Social Media to Maintain Year-Round Presence

Cold Stone Transforms the Ice Cream Social With Facebook

Customer Engagement, One Cone at a Time, Ben & Jerry Co-Founder on Free Ice Cream, Tweeting & Activism

4 Business Scoops to Effectively Reward Ice Cream Customers

Submitted By:  Kim Mizen, Sauble Trading Post

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If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance.