Most people know the New Jersey shore town of Manasquan as a destination for tourists and beachgoers. However, in November and December, the town's center is decked with twinkling lights and holiday décor, attracting shoppers who want to make their holiday purchases from local businesses.

One of the shops along Main Street is Booktowne, a book store with a devoted clientele and busy events schedule. After diligent research, founder Rita Maggio carefully selected Manasquan because of its location, population of people who buy books, and the town's active Chamber of Commerce, which works on behalf of local businesses. The Chamber is instrumental in orchestrating events that attract businesses to the heart of downtown throughout the year.

Holiday planning

For Booktowne, preparing for the all-important holiday season begins around June. Maggio and her team work with publishers and distributors to purchase inventory, meet authors, and plan events by early summer. For some events, the response will be so overwhelming for the tiny book shop that they opt to hold events in the Algonquin Arts Theatre, a larger space located next door.

"We like to do different signings that will give customers ideas for a good gift - a special book or a coffee-table book that will be at a certain price point," she says.

In a recent #HolidayBizPrep Twitter chat hosted by The UPS Store and Inc., small business experts emphasized the importance of that early planning. "Successful holiday marketing is all about advance planning! Plan ahead, and you will win," tweeted serial entrepreneur and founder of SmartHustle magazine, Ramon Ray. Other participants included Anita Campbell, founder of SmallBizTrends, and Steve Strauss, author and small business columnist. The team of experts focused on how to attract new shoppers and turn them into life-long customers.

Marketing game plan

In addition to a holiday plan, Campbell recommends keeping an eye on the numbers to ensure small businesses don't overspend. "I am a big proponent of setting a budget up front and not deviating from it too far," she wrote during #HolidayBizPrep. Maggio typically has a fixed holiday marketing budget in mind but keeps some flexibility in it to capitalize on opportunities, especially around Small Business Saturday®, which is a bigger event than Black Friday for Booktowne. Customers often tell her that they specifically visit downtown Manasquan that Saturday after Thanksgiving to make purchases from her shop and other local businesses in the area. 

Booktowne decorates its premises for the holidays and is known for beautiful window decorations that highlight certain books and themes. When customers enter the store during the holidays, they're likely to find fresh coffee, cider, or cookies waiting for them.

There's something that tells everyone as they walk through the door, 'This is a special time, and we're glad you're celebrating with us,' she says. Strauss believes customers also respond well to in-store and print promotions that can make their holiday shopping easier. Materials such as brochures that answer frequent questions and discount cards that can be used in the future (or passed along to friends) can assist in helping businesses turn browsers into buyers. Small business owners can partner with The UPS Store for these materials when looking to make stronger connections with their holiday shoppers.

Maggio also has an impressive digital marketing approach that includes a growing email newsletter. When new customers visit the store, they're encouraged to sign up for the newsletter or follow the shop on social media. Booktowne has lively Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles, that all showcase events and books. Maggio says this digital marketing is furthering Booktowne's reach, as people come from greater distances and then continue to return time and again to attend events and shop at the store. 

It's all about the team

Part of Booktowne's success over the past decade has been Maggio's ability to assemble a team of employees, contractors, and partners and let them put their strengths to use for her business. One team member takes charge of window designs, while another acts as event planner. One of her salespeople is also an Instagram whiz, so she handles that. They tap The UPS Store for shipping needs and a bookkeeper who helps track finances.

Partners can extend beyond employees and contractors. Strauss tweeted, "If you team up with other small businesses, you can multiply your marketing efforts." Maggio stays active in the town's Chamber of Commerce to keep abreast of what's coming up. During the holidays, the Chamber sponsors the town's popular tree lighting and candy cane hunt, which attracts thousands of attendees to visit various Main Street businesses for one festive, celebratory evening. 

Maggio's book store has holiday season planning down pat. With a combination of online and offline marketing, events, and an exceptional team, she's attracting customers - and finding ways to build relationships with them that will last through the years.


Learn more tips on how to close the sale this holiday season.