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5 Big Ideas for Small Business Saturday

Drum up local support with revisions to your SBS approach.

Launched by American Express in 2009 at the height of the great recession, Small Business Saturday has become an annual shopping event that encourages patronage to local brick-and-mortars each Thanksgiving Weekend. The Super Bowl for boutique retailers, this “shop small” initiative has generated billions of dollars across tens of thousands of small retailers. In fact, American Express reports a total of $15.4 billion was spent at independent retailers and restaurants last year. However, as online bargain hunting soaks up a larger portion of holiday sales, enticing customers to hit the streets will involve some creativity and perseverance. Here’s some hints on how to make your local business stand out this year.

  1. Promote, promote, promote. From posters and flyers to email templates and social posts, American Express offers customizable marketing materials online to help advertise that your business is taking part in the annual holiday shopping tradition. American Express even offers a directory to help customers find participating businesses. Adelle Starin, owner of Baby’s on Broadway in Little Falls, MN, uses these materials on her social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, beginning a couple of weeks before the event. Her local business association also pays for advertising to promote SBS to residents online. “Many people don’t want to wait in the Black Friday lines, so they come on Saturday since it’s not as crowded—plus they receive extra American Express points,” Starin says.
  2. Be different. Sales are a huge attraction to customers, but you want something that will set Saturday apart from Black Friday deals. Need some inspo? Starin hosts a “Pop-A-Balloon” sale every year at Baby’s on Broadway. The owner fills the front windows of her store with balloons containing a coupon for between 20 and 60 percent off. “When the customer comes to the counter to pay, they pop a balloon and get that discount for one item they’re purchasing,” Starin says. The challenge of getting a balloon to pop to win a prize is an experience many shoppers won’t soon forget.
  3. Organize and simplify. The chaos of holiday shopping can be enough to deter even the most avid shopper. Susan Macko, owner of Lemon Llama Kids Boutique in Avon, CT, sets up certain sections by size and others by price so her customers can find exactly what they’re looking for. “I want to make sure shopping is easy for everyone,” Macko says, adding that patrons usually stop at the sections sorted by size first. “Customers in this area are very particular in what they want, so it’s important I have a wide variety to choose from,” she says. With that, she warns that more product means more emphasis on organization because the last thing you want is the customer to feel overwhelmed.
  4. Make it a community effort. Although small businesses of the same town often view each other as competition, Macko says they shouldn’t. Located in a small, nostalgic area in Connecticut, the local businesses have found it most beneficial to support each other whenever possible. This year, Macko will have a snack area for customers that includes cupcakes from her neighbor Cake Gypsy. “We want the customer to come to this area again,” Macko explains. “If they come to shop, they also may buy lunch, grab a cupcake or get a haircut.”
  5. Offer the full package. Customers are always trying to simplify their shopping experience, so why not try to be a step ahead? Around the holiday season, offering pre-packaged gift sets or gift wrapping services is a great way to win over a busy mom’s heart—and wallet. This year, Macko will have decorative boxes and tissue paper for customers’ purchases, so “everything looks special when it leaves the store.” In its promotional materials, American Express suggests creating themed gift bundles like “new parents” or “baby’s first holiday.” Since custom bundles are not as easily sold through discount online retailers, this offering will give your store a leg up on the competition.

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