November 28, 2013

Choosing to buy local on Saturday

While Black Friday is all about discounts and deals, Small Business Saturday is all about giving the little guys a chance to shine.

While Black Friday is all about discounts and deals, Small Business Saturday is all about giving the little guys a chance to shine.

Not that there aren't discounts and deals, too, but local retailers say the special focus on small businesses this Saturday will help them boost sales throughout the holiday season — and even the year.

“We think of Small Business Saturday as a way to celebrate,” says Kelly Boone, store manager at the Elephant’s Trunk toy store. “It’s not just Black Friday out there any more.”

The day started by American Express in 2010 generated $5.5 billion in sales at small businesses last year, reports the National Federation of Independent Business. Seventy-seven percent of consumers surveyed by NFIB this year said they planned to shop at a small retailers on Small Business Saturday.

Smaller retailers can’t compete with the door-busters of Black Friday, says Jill Hendrix, owner of Greenville independent bookstore Fiction Addiction. “I think there needs to be two days.”

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is seen traditionally as the time when stores are finally in the black and making a profit on the year, says Todd Pack, senior media manager with NFIB.

“Small businesses are like that, too,” he says. “You have a lot of shoppers coming in in a brief period, so it is a big time of year for a lot of businesses.”

Black Friday is slow for Hendrix, and she usually doesn't require employees to be in until after lunch. On the other hand, Small Business Saturday gives her a chance to highlight what makes small businesses different.

Boone puts it another way.

“We try to stay organic and innovative and creative,” she says. “We want toys that encourage play. And if everybody else is carrying video games, there’s no need for us to go there.”

On a recent Friday afternoon, the toy store on Augusta Road is rocking. It’s a virtual gigantic toy box with its colorful puzzles, noise-making games and flying electronics that cover the space from wall to wall.

In the store’s 27th holiday season, all signs are pointing to a good one, Boone says, thanks in part to the Saturday focus on small businesses.

Spending at a local business has twice the impact on the local community, says Pack.

“Small business owners pay taxes, they pay rent and they pay employees who live there,” Pack says. “When you shop at a small business a lot of times you’re dealing directly with an owner of a business.”

Different kind of deals

More retailers are embracing Small Business Saturday and offering deals, though it’s likely not the 50-percent-off type promotions found at major retailers. Small Business Saturday is more related to the experience.

Fiction Addiction will make the day special this year with a series of author signings and giveaways.

“We’re celebrating not only ourselves as a small business, but our authors who are small businesses in and of themselves,” Hendrix says.

While The Elephant’s Trunk won’t be slashing prices, the store will offer a chance to test-drive some of the newest toys on the market.

“If we competed that way, we would not be in business,” Boone says. “It would not be possible. We don’t do anything crazy.”

Face painting, glitter tattoos and demonstrations of one of this year’s more popular toys, the Rainbow Loom, will go on throughout the day.

The iStore at Riverplace is taking a different approach. Owner Aaron Bryson has learned that Black Friday isn't usually the day people come downtown, so he runs Black Friday and Small Business Saturday deals all week long.

The specials aren't going to match what bigger stores can do, Bryson says, but his small, independent Apple retail shop does have a leg up — no long lines.

“I hate when you go somewhere to buy something, and they’re like, we’re out. So we just try to have really good sales with no strings.”

Bryson estimates he makes about a fifth of his revenue for the entire year during the holidays. It’s like three months of sales in one month, he says.

“We've got close to 1,000 iPad minis on back order right now, so it’s kind of nerve-wracking,” Bryson says. “It’s like being a compulsive gambler, but you have to be willing to take the risk that you know what people want and what they’re going to buy.”

Capitalizing on difference

Downtown is its own entity, says Emilie Whitaker, co-owner of Beija-Flor Jeans with her mother, Kathy Moca. While Black Friday has typically been a tossup, the cohesiveness of the merchants helps boost sales for everyone. That appeals to Moca and Whitaker and is the reason the two opted to open a Beija-Flor pop-up shop downtown through the holiday season.

The pop-up concept has gained momentum over the past few years, particularly with small and independent businesses. The idea of testing the market by opening a temporary store can drum up support for a business and, in Beija-Flor’s case, it’s helping them test the waters for a future retail location.

For Moca and Whitaker, the pop-up, like Small Business Saturday, is all part of the same cloth — establishing a long-term customer base.

“I think if anybody has a holiday strategy, it’s got to be an omni-channel strategy,” Whitaker says. “You’ve got to have brick and mortar, you’ve got to have an online presence and a goal for long-term customer gain.”

This year, Beija-Flor is teaming up with two other local retailers, the iStore and children’s clothier Vann & Liv, to make Small Business Saturday a bigger event. The three will offer markdowns, a children’s play area and the promise of no lines or traffic.

After Saturday, the specialty denim company will also offer deals on gift cards for cyber Monday, one of the busiest online commerce days of the year.

Still, small businesses aren't’t putting all their proverbial eggs in one basket. For Moca and Whitaker, Small Business Saturday is another chance to build brand awareness. They see the day not only as a chance for sales this holiday season, but in holiday seasons to come.

“Maybe you’re not going to sell them now, but if you meet them, maybe you’ll sell them the next quarter,” Whitaker says. “It’s just about getting your name out there and having a consistent message.”

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