It was nearly impossible for me to join a merchants’ association. This is because even though I am technically a neighborhood merchant, I don’t have a storefront. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense. I doesn’t do anyone any good for me to put up posters in my window, wrap ribbons and lights around my tree for the holidays, or host a band during the neighborhood block party. My address can’t appear on the neighborhood shopping map, and I don’t need to talk with our neighborhood beat officers about that persistent shoplifter.
On the other hand, both of the merchants’ associations I might be eligible to join are in dire need of membership. They don’t have enough dues money, they don’t have enough people to help organize events and they both still don’t have web sites.
The meeting I attended this morning was mostly concerned with the upcoming holiday block party. Some of the issues that were brought up included keeping customers from hanging around the drink table, increasing the number of sidewalk garbage cans, and steering people away from the restaurant bathrooms and towards the porto-potties. There was very little discussion; it was mostly just reporting, and I left at the end of the hour feeling pretty bored and useless.
On my way home I thought to myself, “How can I contribute to, and benefit from, associating myself with these brick-and-mortar merchants?” I was surprised to discover how easily ideas popped into my head.
For events like the holiday block party, for example, neighborhood home-based businesses could have a section of the park, or the sidewalk in front of the parking lot, where we could set up tables to act as temporary “shops.” We could hand out cookies along with coupons and brochures for the products and services nobody ever gets to see otherwise. We could sponsor decorations or new banners, or even the food and drink tables set up in the stores. In return we’d be allowed to leave our materials out. We could hang up posters in public places outside of the neighborhood. We could take photos or collect information for the web site and printed neighborhood directories and have our information included as well. I think it would be beneficial even within the merchant community. Businesses could get their accouting, pet sitting and catering done all within the neighborhood. We could even barter with one another.
Unfortunately, no one at the merchants’ associations other than me has any incentive to spearhead these ideas. If they had wanted home-based businesses to join, it wouldn’t have taken pushy conversations with four different people just to get added to their e-mail lists. So now I have to decide which, if any, of these ideas are worth pursuing. Will it be worth my investment to try to work within a merchants’ association, or am I better off using my time and money on other means of promotion? Any thoughts, invisible readers?