When American Express launched Small Business Saturday on November 27, 2010, the goal was to encourage shoppers across the country to support and use their American Express cards at small, local businesses, which were hit hard by the financial crisis. As this year’s Small Business Saturday approaches (it’s on November 25), the push to “shop local” is no longer a hard sell. The retailing day, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, has grown beyond its Amex roots to become a widely recognized marketing highlight in the small retailer’s calendar.
Victoria Lyman, owner of Allegro Dance Boutique in Barrington and Evanston, IL, has participated in Small Business Saturday since the beginning. “I love it. It’s something I really believe in, and [shopping local] is very important to the economy,” she says. “When I do my own holiday shopping, I make a point of going to small businesses. It’s easy to go on Amazon and shop online, but if I did that, how could I expect my customers to shop local and support small businesses like me?”
Support for local businesses across the country hit record highs in 2016. An estimated 112 million consumers reported shopping at small businesses on Small Business Saturday, up from 95 million in 2015, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and American Express. Consumers reportedly spent $15.4 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on the day.
So how can your store make the most of this popular sales event and cash in on some of these sales? DRN talked to four storeowners who have participated in Small Business Saturday. They share tips and ideas on the marketing and merchandising that have brought crowds into their stores on that day and strengthened their business relationships year-round.
How Owners Spread the Word
Mindy Ortiz, owner of Twinkle Me Pretty in South Jordan, UT, says Small Business Saturday helped put Twinkle Pretty on the map. In 2013,
the store was featured in an American Express Shop Small commercial (vimeo.com/73756849) that ran on television and online. “It’s great that such a large company would take the time to help small businesses,” she adds.
To promote the shopping event each year, Ortiz does social-media messaging and distributes flyers and coupons to all dance, cheer and gymnastics studios in her area. Last year, her husband tied SBS banners to his truck, and the boutique hosted a little party with cotton candy, face painting and games for the kids. “The marketing does not cost much, if anything at all,” she says. “American Express provides you with marketing posters, rugs, stickers and more.”
For Lyman of Allegro Dance Boutique, it took a few years for the event to gain momentum. “The first year was terrible. No one knew about it, and no one came. But tons of people came on Black Friday,” she says. “The second year, we realized we had to get the word out. But it wasn’t until the third year that people knew what it was.”
Now Allegro Dance Boutique hosts a Black Friday and Small Business Saturday combo weekend. “We do different sales each day. On Black Friday we do an extra percentage off a certain product or 20 percent off the whole store, but no [brand] is highlighted or pointed out,” explains Lyman. “On Small Business Saturday we specifically promote small brands.” For the past two years Allegro has put 8 to 10 small dancewear brands on sale—companies like Jule Dancewear, Bullet Pointe and Ballet Rosa—and put them in special areas of the store, along with their logos and signage.
Last year, Katie Maxwell, owner of Glitzee Barre in East Alton, IL, celebrated her store’s grand opening with Small Business Saturday. “Small Business Saturday brings important revenue for local businesses and families,” she says. “We get to know more people throughout our community and strengthen our relationships with our customers.” For the opening party, Maxwell marketed mainly through social media and reached out to dance studios in her area. “We spent less than $100 and were overjoyed with the turnout,” she says. This year, Maxwell—a dancer whose mom runs a local dance studio—says her store will collect slightly used dancewear and shoes to donate to studios that were affected by the recent hurricanes.
Liza Murray, owner of 8 Count Dancewear in Scranton, PA, participated in Small Business Saturday for the first time in 2016. Her store offered secret discounts—15, 20 and 25 percent off total purchase—hidden in mystery bags that customers picked out. “People were excited to shop a new local downtown store and have a surprise sale,” she says. Murray also advertised on Facebook, which cost about $20, as well as in a local newspaper, which was $199 for a two-day color ad.
This year, she plans to have a giveaway as well as an in-store contest. “I found a dancer ornament I like for the giveaway,” says Murray. “And the in-store contest will be a short matching game of dance-related phrases and terms kids can do while parents shop.”
A Chance to Build Partnerships
Teaming up with other local small brands and businesses for Small Business Saturday is an effective strategy for indie dance retailers. “We like to give back to the community and help other small businesses like ours,” says Ortiz. “Last year when we all came together, it helped our business and profits grow, as well as the other stores.”
In 2015, Allegro Dance Boutique hosted a trunk show with a new dancewear line, Zilliewear, co-created by Lizzie MacKenzie, co-founder and artistic director of Extensions Dance Company and Extensions Dance Center in Chicago. “We try to be a good member of the dance community,” says Lyman. “We got [Lizzie’s] students from her studio coming to the store—she made sure all of the new colors that her students and fans had not seen came out that day. It didn’t cost us. She promoted on her own, and we got 15 percent of the sales.”
Additionally, on Small Business Saturday, both Allegro Dance Boutique locations provided shoppers with snacks from local eateries. This collaboration generated new customers for the restaurants and fostered customer loyalty for the dance retailer. “Next to the Barrington store we have an organic juicery where our employees grab lunch, and they brought us vegan treats and juices throughout the day. In Evanston, a bakery brought over cookies and treats for customers,” says Lyman. “People stay longer when there’s something to eat. It creates loyalty, and the strength of small business is that we can be more charming and add personal touches.”
Tracy E. Hopkins, a Brooklyn, NY–based writer, has contributed to The Associated Press and Essence.
Small Business Saturday is dedicated to supporting the local businesses that can help create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods around the country.
To help you promote your business, any small retailer can get free materials from the Shop Small Studio, including in-store signage, personalized online banner ads, social-media posts and e-mail templates. You can use these materials throughout the year to capitalize on your store’s connection to the Shop Small movement. Go to: americanexpress.com/us/small-business/shop-small/promote.
American Express Card–accepting small merchants enjoy even more free marketing opportunities and the chance to help drive traffic to their business by being featured on the Shop Small Map and through free online ads. Learn more by visiting americanexpress.com/marketing, and connect on social media via instagram.com/shopsmall, facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday and twitter.com/shopsmall. —T.E.H.
From top: photo courtesy of Victoria Lyman/Allegro Dance Boutique; (2) courtesy of Liza Murray/8 Count Dancewear