One man who can't let a holiday or special occasion go by without marking it in his shop is Dennis Williams of Broadway Convenience Store, Edinburgh. Whether it's National Independents' Day or Christmas, Dennis likes to make the most of it with special events, promotions, raffles and plenty of fancy dress. He swears that the feedback and loyalty this engenders in his customers is worth the effort and expense that he puts in.
Each Christmas he holds a Christmas week at the beginning of December to try to catch his customers' imaginations and get the month off to a flying start.
Planning for the week begins in early November, once Halloween and Bonfire Night are out of the way, when he begins to put in calls to suppliers to see if they can help out with promotions or prizes for raffles. "Some, like Coca- Cola and Cadbury, and locally Grampian Foods, are very helpful and keen to get involved," he says. "I ring up, very informally, and say what I'm doing and ask them if they've got any ideas. It really helps to build up a strong relationship with suppliers - it's important to have them on board. We support each other."
He says that he's noticed that suppliers seem more and more keen to get involved: "I think that they have realised that putting all their eggs in one basket with the supermarkets is a dangerous game to play and they seem more keen to develop relationships. And if you don't ask, you don't get."
Dennis adds that being able to show turnover volume through his epos system helps get suppliers interested: "They love that, they're always looking for those sort of figures."
He also finds decorating the shop early (in November) helps suppliers see that he really means business and is going to put the effort into making the season a success.
Dennis says that a raffle generates interest for customers and gives him an opportunity to give something to the community. Proceeds usually go to a local cause such as the community centre. "The top prize is usually something like a TV - we try to make it something special and sometimes the suppliers help with this. I twist their arms! I also put my own hand in my pocket, maybe with a DVD player or something. It all helps build up a strong relationship with the community."
Once plans are in place and suppliers have given support, flyers detailing offers and prizes are sent out to the local community to draw customers in. Dennis also has close relationships with local and national press and trade magazines, to ensure that he gets as much coverage as possible. "For our National Independents' Day celebrations we ended up on the morning, lunchtime and evening national news. That's great PR for us," he says.
The climax of the week comes on the Friday when staff dress up in fancy dress, Dennis holds a wine or beer tasting, and the raffle is drawn.
The fun doesn't end there, though, as the staff all dress up again on Christmas Eve. Says Dennis: "I'm not saying that this is how all businesses should be run, but I know this works for us. You've got to build relationships with your customers and get them to trust you. It's all worth it. Okay, so I might spend a couple of hundred quid, but I'll get it all back."
Customers at Barrie Seymour's Londis store in Littletown, West Yorkshire, are used to finding staff in fancy dress at Christmas as the whole store likes to get into the seasonal spirit. Last year the theme was pantomimes, and Widow Twanky could be seen serving customers throughout Christmas Eve.
Barrie is well known locally for embracing every major occasion. He had a big window display and ran competitions during the World Cup, and Christmas is no different. The window is usually decorated in the first week of December - last year with a 7ft tree, moving Santas and white polystyrene balls for snow which, he says, may have been a mistake as 'they got everywhere'.
So popular were the blue neon Christmas lights he used as decoration in the window that he started to sell them and they flew off the shelves. The only drawbacks to all the festive cheer were the visits from the local constabulary, alerted by the alarm which had been set off by swaying balloons and decorations after the shop had closed.
"We'll either have to tape all the decorations down this year or make sure that the heaters and fans are off. The police get a bit annoyed after a couple of visits."
Barrie admits, though, that his staff got slightly sick of the reindeer that sang 'Happy Christmas' every time a customer came in - it was switched off for its own safety and played only as a treat for kids.
"I think it started to drive everyone a bit mad, but it was great for the kids," Barrie says.
This year he's still waiting to hear from head office about any deals or raffle prizes. Last year a Magnum of Moët Champagne was up for grabs, with proceeds going to the local school. As the store has TV screens he's also planning to show a few Christmas films for shoppers' children. "The atmosphere is just great at this time of year," he says.