Shopping Small Proves Big for Local Retailers
By Karon Warren
Photography courtesy of: Shop Small images courtesy of American Express; Center Stage, Hernando, Turnrow Books, Greenwood and Cleveland; Rory Doyle
Small Business Saturday – the day after Black Friday – continues to draw attention and customers to local retailers.
Back in 2010, big-box stores and online retailers like Amazon wreaked havoc on local, independent retailers who sold everything from books and clothing to toys, appliances and electronics. To combat that consumer evolution, American Express launched a new initiative: Small Business Saturday.
Taking place on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday over Thanksgiving weekend, Small Business Saturday was created as a national movement to drive shoppers to local merchants across the country. American Express OPEN, the company’s small business unit, was joined by a number of advocacies, public and private organizations to promote the initiative.
These included Facebook, the National Association of Women Business Owners, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Center, and SCORE: Counselors to America’s Small Businesses.
Over the last decade, shoppers have shown strong support for their local retailers on Small Business Saturday. In fact, in 2018, shoppers spent a record high of $17.8 million at independent retailers and restaurants nationwide. Plus, according to the “2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey,” 96 percent of consumers who went shopping on Small Business Saturday said the day made them want to shop local all year long.
At Turnrow Books in Greenwood, general manager Elizabeth Hinckley says Small Business Saturday is a part of the store’s Thanksgiving weekend marketing, but not the major focus. Sometimes the store does something specific for the day, and other times it’s just part of the store’s holiday campaign.
To keep customers coming in all year long, Hinckley says Turnrow works to build customer loyalty. One way the store does that is through its “A Child’s First Book Club,” a subscription program wherein children receive a new picture book each month. This first edition is autographed by both the author and the illustrator.
Another service the store provides is signed first editions of John Grisham novels upon their release.
“We get repeat customers based on those services,” Hinckley says.
Because Small Business Saturday falls on a Saturday during the fall, it does encounter competition from outside the retail environment: college football. And those football games don’t always play into the favor of local retailers. At Upstairs Closet in Senatobia, owner Beverly Massey says football weekends take away from her business.
“Our town is dead if football games are on that day,” she says.
As a result, she doesn’t participate in Small Business Saturday. Instead, she focuses on what she’s been doing since first opening her store in 1974: She works to make shopping at her store fun so her customers enjoy the experience.
“It’s not about price, but about quality,” Massey says. “My customers like to see the goods, feel the goods and try them on.”
In lieu of Small Business Saturday, Massey says she holds about four major events throughout the year to attract customers.
“Our events do really well,” she says. “They are very important to my shop.”
For instance, she recently celebrated her store’s anniversary. Also, she says her Christmas open house is very popular. Part of that may be due to the food and champagne punch she serves, she says with a laugh.
Turnrow Books also hosts a number of events each year to draw in customers. Whether it’s an author signing, a poetry reading, live music, open mic night or something else altogether, these events provide an opportunity for Turnrow Books to attract and connect with customers.
Connecting with customers also is a top priority for Cindy Gaines of Center Stage Fashions in Hernando, who says her store focuses on personal service.
“We have unique things not found on the Internet,” she says. “We hand select items for our customers when we go to market.”
Gaines says her customers, who, on average, are age 40 and older, don’t like the process of shopping online. They don’t want the hassle of buying online without being able to feel the materials or try clothes on, she says. She also believes they don’t like the hassle of dealing with returns and waiting for a refund.
“Here, they can see it, feel it and try it on,” she says. “If they like it, they get it. If they don’t, they won’t. They need retail therapy, and we give it to them.”
That personal connection appears to be the key element in helping local retailers stay in business in the face of stiff competition from big-box stores and online outlets.
“We not only provide books,” Hinckley says. “We also serve as a community center. We contribute to the community in a lot of ways.”
Massey agreed, pointing out that many local residents forget just how involved local businesses are within the community.
“People forget storeowners are the ones who support schools, the Scouts and their kids’ sports,” she says.
It only takes a moment to flip through a local school yearbook or sports program or to read the signs around the local parks and recreation fields. All those ads and signs promoting local businesses were paid for by those businesses in support of those local causes.
“When people have fundraisers or a raffle at school, they’re not calling Amazon for a donation,” Hinckley says. “They call real people. We donate books and gift cards.”
In addition, the local sales taxes spent at area businesses help fund many community needs, such as educating kids, paving local roads, and paying salaries for the local police and firefighters.
Those monies don’t come from online sales. Any sales taxes paid to online vendors–provided that vendor even charges sales tax–goes to the state as a whole, not the individual community where the buyer lives.
It’s evident that supporting local businesses goes much further than keeping the doors open at a mom-and-pop restaurant or the neighborhood hardware store. Therefore, embracing Small Business Saturday could be one marketing tactic to help bring customers through those doors.
For independent businesses who want to participate in Small Business Saturday, American Express provides many materials and ideas for promoting the initiative.