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Lincoln Square businesses see growth in 2009 by spending smarter, listening to customers

A Crain's Chicago Business article recently reported that Lincoln Square small businesses saw a 5% increase in sales and  increased traffic in 2009. Coming out of a difficult year, what helped small businesses in this neighborhood grow?

Smarter spending
"I'm hearing that a lot of people took a much deeper and more critical look into their own business in 2009," says Melissa Flynn, executive director of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce. This includes making more thoughtful purchasing decisions and listening to customer feedback on which items they want.

It also extends into looking for cost efficiencies across basic operations. For example, can you develop an email campaign instead of spending money on printing flyers?

Focusing on what you do best
Timeless Toys sells games, puzzles, dolls, books and other classic toys. The store does not focus on electronic toys, and in a year when many people wanted to go back to the basics, Timeless Toys' product selection was a perfect fit. More importantly, the store did a good job of communicating what it does offer by using tools like Constant Contact, an e-newsletter service, during the holidays. Co-owner Martha Burrows shares that the store has been collecting customer emails for a while, during transactions and raffles, which provided a good database for the first e-newsletter issue.

Listening to customer feedback
Beyond taking customer feedback into consideration when making purchasing decisions, what else can you learn? Enjoy, an Urban General Store, noticed that its retail space wasn't big enough considering all the families and parents with strollers that were coming in to shop. As a result, the store actually moved into a larger location in 2009 to better cater to its customers.

It's the little things that matter
Timeless Toys offers free gift wrapping. The Book Cellar hosts a weekly story hour for kids. These relatively simple gestures show customers you care about them and add value to their experience in your store.

The importance of shopping locally
Lincoln Square is the home to a very diverse population, in terms of culture, lifestyle and age. The businesses are equally diverse, and most shop owners also live in Lincoln Square. This local and personal involvement from store owners shows the community that these businesses are truly committed to the neighborhood.

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