It doesn’t have the hype or the near-holiday status of Black Friday, but Small Business Saturday has proven to be a profitable promotion for independently owned retailers. This year, the nationwide event that encourages consumers to support smaller, independently owned establishments was held Saturday, Nov. 24. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), consumers spent $5.5 billion last Saturday at smaller shops, and about 36 percent of U.S. independent retailers say that Small Business Saturday is their most important shopping day of the year.
Independent retailers nationwide welcome the promotion, and so do those at the local level. In downtown Rhinelander, Lori Hext of By Request was pleased with the customer turnout at her shop last Saturday.
“There were nonstop people,” she said. “Sales were good.” She noticed a number of unfamiliar faces throughout the day and feels that more people who usually don’t shop downtown visited the shops there over the weekend. As she noted, even if people who browse through smaller shops don’t make purchases right away, they will remember items they’ve seen and are likely to return later.
“Small business is the backbone of America,” Hext said. “Every business, even the big ones, started out small.” Supporting independently owned retailers, she pointed out, increases the likelihood of those businesses eventually hiring more employees and spurring the economy further.
Michelle Smith-Grage of Latitudes, a boutique in downtown Rhinelander, also noticed an uptick in business last Saturday.
“I was really satisfied with the day,” she said. “It was a very good day and we had good traffic.” Apparently the idea of supporting smaller businesses is catching on among more people. Many shoppers, Smith-Grage added, indicated that they were making a point of shopping at local retailers.
While larger retailers benefit from Black Friday, smaller retailers also felt its impact. From about 2 to 3 p.m. on Friday, Hext said, “I was slammed.”
“I actually had a boost on Friday, which was unusual,” Smith-Grage said. She suspects the increase in shoppers might be due to the earlier start to the shopping weekend this year, as some large retailers began their sales events Thanksgiving night.
As a retailer who specializes in educational toys, games and puzzles, Cynthia Tomlanovich of KC Menagerie faces competition on several fronts. Larger retailers, a sluggish economy, the attraction to electronic items instead of toys-these and more are all challenges with which she must contend. While Small Business Saturday “wasn’t gangbusters,” she said, sales did pick up. “It was good,” she said, “but it wasn’t as good as other years. It’s a tough road for small business.”
She pointed out the importance of supporting independent retailers in order to ensure that a wider variety of choices remain available to consumers.
Although larger retailers may have big selections and beefed up purchasing power, smaller businesses are often known for offering attentive service and unique merchandise. Once those smaller businesses are gone, that choice often goes away with them. “If people don’t shop the small businesses,” said Tomlanovich, “they’re not going to have any options.”
Small Business Saturday has proven to be the antithesis of the unbridled, brawling consumerism often associated with Black Friday. Launched by American Express as a way to promote the importance of supporting smaller, independently owned businesses, Small Business Saturday has caught on with shoppers who find the idea of a more leisurely pace, along with the knowledge that they’re supporting their community, appealing. On a national scale, the event has grown bigger each year since it began three years ago, and it appears that the momentum will keep building. That’s a good thing for small retailers who often feel overshadowed by their larger competitors.
“It’s the one day we celebrate the small businesses,” Hext said, “but it shouldn’t be the only day.”