Nestled between the occasionally controlled chaos of Black Friday and the countless clicks of Cyber Monday sits a relatively new post-Thanksgiving shopping day. As the name implies, Small Business Saturday calls on holiday gift-seekers to patronize small retailers rather than, or in addition to, big-box stores. This Saturday, Nov. 29, marks the fifth incarnation of the movement, and many advocates are expecting the best season yet.
“As a chamber, we really love the idea of supporting those local businesses and Small Business Saturday as a mechanism across the United States,” says Erin Leonard, Asheville Chamber of Commerce director of communications. Calling the day “an opportunity to showcase all that the community has to offer,” Leonard feels the event’s power lies in its prompting individuals to think ahead and plan purchase decisions more consciously.
The de facto holiday, originally the 2010 brain child of American Express’ small-business wing OPEN, was officially recognized by the U.S. Senate one year after its inaugural run. Since then, the movement has gained traction, established an official online presence and employed networking tactics to spread awareness one town at a time.
National Small Business Saturday organizers recently reached out to Asheville’s Chamber of Commerce for assistance with grassroots marketing, sending the organization tote bags, balloons, pet scarves and other promotional items. Leonard’s team has been distributing the branded goods to local businesses in an effort to create additional buzz among independent stores’ regular customers. American Express even donated several $25 gift cards, which don’t expire on Saturday, for the chamber to disperse at its discretion. (Keep an eye on social media for potential giveaway updates).
“In Asheville, a lot of our businesses are small businesses, and there’s a great love of that local economy, unique shops and local products,” says Leonard, and for many companies, the off-season sales boost from residents is critical. “One thing about having local clientele is that you’re building a relationship in the community with customers that are going to come back to your store time and again. If somebody is out shopping for the holiday, they might pique their interest for some other time of the year.”
Last year, consumers spent $5.7 billion at local merchants’ shops on Small Business Saturday, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, and many economic impact studies show that local buys are more than a kind gesture.
In fact, a 2012 meta-analysis conducted by the American Independent Business Alliance compiled research findings from 10 city-level studies by Civic Economics. The findings illustrate that, on average, 48 percent of revenues from independent retailers recirculate into local economies compared with just 13.6 percent of revenues from large chain stores. In other words, this “local multiplier effect” or “local premium” from shopping small creates nearly quadruple the economic benefit for the community.
Jonathan Jones, owner of Asheville’s Welcomemat Services marketing company, says Small Business Saturday presents season-specific opportunities for local managers to captivate new or returning clientele. He suggests providing a countdown to Saturday savings, scheduling an open house with wine or cider and sending handwritten Thanksgiving cards to particularly loyal customers. “Asheville is a grassroots community,” he says, so small, genuine acts make a difference.
National organizers are encouraging Small Business Saturday supporters to use hashtags #SmallBizSat and #ShopSmall when posting relevant social media updates. Last November, similar hashtags garnered some 352,000 tweets, according to Business Wire, and the official Small Business Saturday Facebook page is already enjoying growth beyond its milestone of 3.3 million likes.
According to Leonard, Small Business Saturday underlines the critical bond between local business owners and local residents. “We have a good community and a good culture, and a large part of that is our small businesses,” she says. “The more that we all support one another, I think, the stronger we are as a community.”