Small Business Saturday creates buzz, not boost for local stores

By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Nov. 28, 2011

The second annual American Express Small Business Saturday generated a push for shoppers to shop at local businesses, but in Charleston, retailers said they didn’t see the boost they hoped for.

“It definitely had a much stronger buzz than last year, but I don’t know that it was enough of a call to action for people,” Stacy Smallwood, owner of Hampden Clothing on King Street said.

Television and social media campaigns spread the word about this year’s event in the hopes that more people would think to shop locally between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The event started last year when American Express decided to help small businesses rally to compete during the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

“We heard very loud and clear from small businesses that their number one need was bringing in more demand,” said Mary Ann Fitzmaurice, senior vice president for American Express Open. The plea from small businesses led American Express to work on a plan.

“There was also the fact that there was this renewed sentiment and realization that small businesses were the lifeblood of the economy,” Fitzmaurice said.

So American Express devised Small Business Saturday, an initiative to help small businesses band together and market deals during the Thanksgiving holiday. In addition, shoppers who spent at least $25 on a purchase with their American Express cards would receive a $25 credit on their card statement.

The crux of the event was marketing. Social media and online marketing carried the brunt of American Express’ efforts with small businesses. American Express wanted to help local businesses create an online presence — especially if they didn’t already have one.

In Charleston, a handful of small businesses advertised sales for the event. While the American Express offer was good at any small business, others chose to add their own extra value.

Verde, a new restaurant on King Street, offered $5 special salads to mark the occasion. Jennifer Ferrebee, owner of Verde, said sales were up 20% over a typical Saturday, and she said she saw a number of people who knew about the day.

“You heard a lot more about it than I ever remember from last year,” Ferrebee said. “I saw tons of posters in windows on businesses. I think it was a big success.”

Other store owners and managers said they saw more people mulling about, but can’t say they noticed a specific boost on Saturday, as opposed to the weekend as a whole.

Smallwood said sales at Hampden Clothing were almost exactly the same as last year’s Small Business Saturday.

“Almost to the dollar the same,” she said, adding that last year was a success, so not seeing a bump in sales year-over-year isn’t that surprising.

Robben Richards, owner of Worthwhile on King Street, said sales by customers using American Express cards were nearly double what they were a year ago, but said she’s uncertain whether the boost in sales can be completely attributed to the event.

“I don’t know how much I would attribute to Small Business Saturday. It’s hard to say, but we had a great weekend,” Richards said.

But all small business owners said the goal of the event is a worthwhile one. Encouraging shoppers to choose smaller, local retailers for holiday items is something they’re all behind because they believe small retailers add character to the city and note that the money spent in small businesses tends to end up invested back into the community.

“We don’t want Charleston to turn into a strip mall,” Smallwood said. “These are the people who live work and give back to the Charleston community, so it’s a huge support for the city.”

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