NISKAYUNA — Whether you start your shopping early or wait for turkey dinner to digest first, local small business owners hope you’ll save a little shopping stamina for their special day this year: Small Business Saturday.
2014 marks the fifth year retailers have celebrated Small Business Saturday, an unofficial shopping holiday and marketing opportunity started by American Express in 2010. The financial services corporation runs a major marketing campaign for the occasion, provides free advertising for some of their small business customers, and even sends out signs to business owners across the country.
It seems to be working. The National Retail Federation released the results of its Thanksgiving Weekend Expectations survey on Nov. 20. This was the first year its annual survey included questions about Small Business Saturday, which suggests the shopping holiday is gaining traction as a national event like the long-running Black Friday and more recent Cyber Monday, which involves discounts from online retailers.
The survey predicts about 25 percent of Americans will participate, and 19 percent said they would do so specifically to patronize local merchants in honor of Small Business Saturday.
Since there’s no data from previous surveys, it’s impossible to say whether interest in Small Business Saturday is increasing statistically. But it seems to be doing well locally.
Peter Musler, owner of Musler’s Fine Women’s Clothing on Upper Union Street, is perfectly poised to take advantage of a day that promotes shopping local. He’s a third-generation owner of the family business who says he’s built his success on relationships that often start by chance. It’s all about getting people in the door of the store, he said.
“It’s sort of dumb luck in our business,” Musler said.
He has numerous stories about customers who came in because traffic was backed up, or they spotted something interesting in the window while passing by. Those chance encounters often end in lasting customer relationships.
This will be Musler’s first year participating in the campaign, but he welcomes anything that brings people in the door, especially during such a busy shopping weekend.
“It’s just a way to participate in a national promotion,” he said. “Sometimes a small merchant can be lost, and we don’t want to be lost.”
He said there won’t be any especially deep discounts in the store, but he’s excited to meet new people nonetheless.
At Niskayuna Wines and Liquors, owner Peter Scanlan said he has participated in Small Business Saturday for several years. He said American Express usually sends posters, which he puts up to remind people of the event.
Still, he said, his success with the holiday has been moderate.
“I think it’s great that they do it,” he said.
He appreciates any additional business that comes out of the holiday, but Scanlan said partly because of its timing, he rarely sees any great spike in customers.
“It’s kind of a down day,” he said, noting that people tend to be somewhat retail-fatigued after Black Friday shopping.
He added that there’s a chance he doesn’t see a spike simply because people near his shop already make a point to patronize local businesses. Niskayuna Wines and Liquors is on Nott Street, near several other locally owned businesses, including Lange Pharmacy, Right Touch gift shop and the Niskayuna Co-Op.
“We’re lucky. We have a small business feel,” he said.
Scanlan’s father bought the shop in 1979, and a display of family photos and newspaper clippings from years past remind customers of the store’s local roots.
“I think so many people shop small business anyway,” he said.
While Musler and Scanlan, like many merchants, use the holiday to celebrate and promote the idea of supporting local business owners, another local merchant takes advantage of the occasion to run extensive promotions.
Natalie Smarro, owner of Trendy Tots consignment on Woodland Avenue, said she’s had success with flash sales and other discounts and promotions over the years. This year, she decided to try something new: a 14-day “Gratitude Challenge,” which she created to spread positivity while drawing new business.
As part of the challenge, Smarro asked her Facebook followers to share one thing they felt grateful for each day for two weeks leading up to Small Business Saturday. Each day, she selected one commenter to win a giveaway, such as a small credit for merchandise.
The contest leads up to a “Gratitude Celebration” at the store Nov. 29, where one participant in the challenge will win a $50 gift card.
For Smarro, this, as with any small business promotion, is about creating connections.
“I am filled with gratitude every morning when I open my computer and see that 50-plus families are participating daily,” she said in an email. “It’s overwhelming.”
As Musler said, even though the holiday is new and still growing, local business owners genuinely appreciate the support their customers offer.
“The retail business is so volatile, but being established helps,” Musler said. “There is a lot of loyalty, and it’s very appreciated.”