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VOL. 36 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 23, 2012

Big deals in small packages

Shop Small Saturday boosts independents

By Stephanie Toone

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Hundreds of merchants throughout Middle Tennessee have embraced the second annual Small Business Saturday, adding their own incentives and putting their faith in predictions that sales will be up 80 percent compared to last year.

“Black Friday is not a huge day for us, but the Shop Small Saturday has been significant,” says Chris Gerbman, who co-owns Country Gourmet, a specialty gift store in downtown Murfreesboro.

Until American Express got into the act, his shop was a ghost town on that Saturday.

“We saw twice as much business on Small Business Saturday last year compared to what we get on Black Friday. There seem to be new faces that come that have never been to our shop before.”

More than 100 million shoppers participated in the new American Express promotion in 2011, the company states. American Express launched the buy-local promotion to direct shoppers from Black Friday into neighborhood stores and restaurants on the Saturday after Thanksgiving as part of an entire weekend of holiday spending.

Nearly 50 percent of independent merchants plan to participate in Small Business Saturday as part of their holiday strategy, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. About 67 percent of those business owners will offer some form of discount on Nov. 24.

Unique products and affordability are key for small businesses expecting to increase sales on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but it may not be enough to pull the 80 percent sales increase predicted by American Express, says Jeff Cornwall, Belmont University professor of entrepreneurship and director of the Belmont’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

That day’s traffic and sales must translate through the shopping season to make a difference for small businesses.

“Small businesses lead the way out of recessions,” he explains. “It’s about the job creation. It’s going to take a lot more than (Small Business Saturday) to right the ship.

“With that being said, 50 to 80 percent of most businesses sales come through this Christmas holiday season,” he adds. “It’s great to get people thinking about small business now, so they will come back in do more business.’’

Economists say interest in supporting local businesses exists, but demand remains flat.

America lost 194,150 small business establishments (500 employees or less) between 2008 and 2010, U.S. Census numbers show. That was a loss of more than 4 million jobs for those small businesses in a three-year span.

“Small businesses make up almost half of the economy, so it’s vitally important that they see growth,” Cornwall adds. “Small business owners are cautious right now. They are not committing to hiring or buying capital goods or expanding inventory. Not much has changed since 2010.”

Budgeting to ‘shop small’

American Express introduced the concept in 2010 by creating the shopsmall.com website, which features thousands of independently owned businesses that accept American Express cards.

Consumers receive a $25 credit on their American Express card statement when they spend $25 or more at one of the authorized small shops, says Patricia Norins, independent retail magazine publisher and shopping expert who supports the credit card giant’s efforts.

“Millions of Americans are now budgeting to shop small to support businesses that are a vital part of their community,” Norins says. “Consumers recognize they can single-handedly make a difference when they choose to shop locally on Nov. 24th. Customers also will benefit when they shop small, because they will find unique products, amazing customers service and many great deals.”

Hendersonville gets creative

Some Hendersonville business owners are expanding the Shop Small concept with myTown, an online community that gives shoppers incentives for supporting locally-owned businesses throughout the year, says John Fuqua, owner of Ultimate Party Superstore.

Customers purchase a myTown card for $10 and receive rewards for spending their dollars at local stores that sign up as myTown merchants. Fuqua’s store will be busy up until New Year’s, but he said he still faces the challenge of competing with Party City and other chain stores that have name recognition.

“I do think it opens people’s eyes to what’s around them right here in their town,” Fuqua says. “It’s gonna be better to keep those tax dollars here with a local owner.”

Post-election confidence?

The success of Small Business Saturday primarily will depend on the consumers, says Leroy Cunningham, business specialist with the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at MTSU. The recent election could play a role in easing consumers’ worries about discretionary spending.

“There was some confidence gained after the election to some degree,” he says. “The uncertainty is now gone, so it’s time for consumers to loosen up and support these small businesses. There’s no wait in a line at 3 a.m. and no camping out to support them.”

Discounts and community pride

Ather Khan, president of the United Gift Company, says he also competes with big-box stores. His souvenir shops in the Sheraton Nashville Downtown, Renaissance and Millennium Maxwell hotels will offer 10-30 percent discounts for Small Business Saturday as he hopes to get a break from the usual post-Thanksgiving slump.

“We usually depend on convention traffic, so we are more like a niche,” Khan says. “We do have some T-shirt lines and certain items that can’t be found anywhere in Nashville.”

Stefanie Griffin dreads the Black Friday mania and will wait until Saturday to support the boutiques in her East Nashville neighborhood.

“I’ll probably shop for Christmas gifts, jewelry and things like that, she says. “There’s a lot of pride and support in my neighborhood for supporting local businesses. ”

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