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VOL. 37 | NO. 48 | Friday, November 29, 2013

Small Business Saturday unites indie retailers

By Joe Morris

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Black Friday is now a weeklong sales event for most national retail chains, and Cyber Monday continues to gain steam for those who wish to do their holiday shopping online.

Good news for the big guys, but not so much for the smaller businesses, even those with a web presence, that often get lost in the shuffle since they can’t compete with the large-scale advertising campaigns and the deep discounts.

On Nov. 30, Small Business Saturday will attempt to level the playing field.

Four years ago, American Express launched Small Business Saturday, a campaign that organizes independent retailers under a single marketing umbrella. It provides branding materials, an online map of their locations – and a bigger marketing platform in general. In addition to AmEx’s efforts, small businesses also receive boosts from FedEx, Foursquare, Twitter and even the U.S. Postal Service.

“The vision for the program was to support and celebrate local businesses,” explains Patricia Norins, who as Small Business Saturday Shopping Expert serves as a spokesperson for the program.

“Over time, it’s gained a tremendous amount of momentum. Last year 100 million customers shopped small, and consumer awareness of the program rose to 67 percent, all of which led to $5.5 billion being spent on that day alone.”

To capitalize on the event’s success, more efforts this year were made to reach out to local businesses, and to provide materials and support that all comers could take advantage of. That’s tricky when you’re dealing with everything from toys to tires, but it has led to a varied pool of participants, Norins says.

“The goal is for the retailers to make the day their own, and that’s happening,” she says. “This year one new element was the Neighborhood Champion program, which brings together communities of small businesses to create unique promotional materials for their area.

One group, from Winter Park, Fla., got their whole downtown together and produced a YouTube video profiling all their businesses and encouraging customers to support them.”

In Middle Tennessee, several retailers have jumped in with both feet, creating event pages for Facebook and other online channels, as well as using the AmEx-supplied materials to get themselves tied into the day’s national promotional efforts.

“This is my first year, and I’m excited about taking part. Just getting on that national map seemed like a great idea, and they offered a lot of other things as well,” says Tish Owen, owner of Goddess & The Moon at 603 8th Ave.

“All I had to do was note on my Facebook page that we were taking part, and we were in.”

On Small Business Saturday her shop will feature a gift and craft fair, offering everything from locally sourced artwork to on-site massage therapy.

She hopes that people will make Goddess & The Moon one stop among many, which can help small businesses near her and even across town.

“We all use each other, because if I’m doing well other businesses along 8th Avenue will see more traffic,” Owen adds. “I don’t know some of these people, but now we’re all together in a common campaign, which helps us meet and network.”

Over at The French Shoppe, co-owners Leigh Masters and Susan Mattox also saw the event as a good way to kick off the holiday shopping season at their three locations on West End, in Belle Meade and Hendersonville.

“Last year was the first time we really promoted taking part, and this year we got going a little earlier,” Masters says. “It’s on our Facebook pages, and we’re sending out an email blast to remind people.

“It’s a great way to promote ourselves, but also to honor small businesses. We can’t compete in the department store and chain store arena, but we provide great value for our customers. This lets us tell that story.”

As the program grows for one-off support to entire communities of small businesses banding together, Norins says she believes its ongoing success is assured.

“Even in places like New York, I see stores getting together and doing things like giving a 10 percent discount for customers with receipts from neighboring shops,” she says.

“Things like that will provide incentives for customers, but it also builds loyalty.

One main reason this day was created was to level the playing field, but also so shoppers could benefit from the amazing customer service experience and other things that independent businesses can offer.”