Why Small Business Saturday Is the New Black Friday

Small Business Saturday is the independent jewelry store owner’s best bet for capturing sales during the peak shopping days of the holiday season

In 2011, Cory Schifter, owner of Casale Jewelers in Staten Island, N.Y., gave Small Business Saturday a test run. Then an upstart event clamoring for the nation’s attention in the looming shadows of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the new ­initiative promised to promote local, independent merchants amid the holiday shopping rush.

“I liked the message,” Schifter says. “The big-box stores and Internet are so powerful, but here was a day built to recognize and appreciate small businesses.”

And though Casale Jewelers’ first Small Business Saturday produced marginal results, Schifter embraced the day’s potential. “If we could learn how to leverage the day, I thought we could hit a home run.”

ZUMA Press Inc./Alamy
Casale Jewelers owner Cory Schifter shows off some of his Small Business Saturday marketing material.

The following year, Schifter devoted himself to promoting Casale’s involvement with the shopping holiday. He created a Facebook event and invited fans, ran Facebook ads, placed Small Business Saturday balloons in front of his store, and broadcast storewide savings on his store’s digital marketing channels.

Schifter’s calculated efforts produced buzz and results. A local TV news crew visited Casale Jewelers as the store hummed with customers throughout the day. When Small Business Saturday 2012 ended, ­Casale’s sales had jumped nearly 300 percent from its 2011 trial.

“When we used the tools available to us and made a committed effort to promote our involvement, we saw just how powerful this day could be,” Schifter says.

Entering its fifth year in 2014, Small Business Saturday—slated this year for Nov. 29—has evolved from a novel experiment created by American Express to an ever-emerging retail calendar fixture spotlighting independent merchants and the value of shopping locally.

ZUMA Press Inc./Alamy
Casale customers help spread the “shop small” message in the store’s Staten Island, N.Y., neighborhood.

“What I love about Small Business Saturday is that it puts us local shops in people’s minds at a time when they are spending money,” says Josh Freedman of Freedman Jewelers, a family-owned store in downtown Boston that has participated in the event every year since its 2010 debut.

According to a 2013 survey from the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express, consumer awareness of Small Business Saturday reached an all-time high in 2013, with 71 percent of consumers reporting a familiarity with the day. Elected officials in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., including President Barack Obama and many senior government officials, championed Small Business Saturday with proclamations or resolutions, while corporate partners such as FedEx, Twitter, Foursquare, and the U.S. Postal Service also advanced the day’s message through various marketing channels.

As awareness has increased, so too has spending. Of those consumers aware of the event, 46 ­percent reported “shopping small” last Nov. 30, while total Small Business ­Saturday spending reached $5.7 ­billion in 2013, a nearly 4 percent jump from 2012.

“With such growth, small businesses are missing an opportunity if they are not involved,” says Small Business Saturday spokesperson Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, adding that the day “capitalizes on the feel-good vibe so many want to experience” and often creates “a ripple effect that drives future traffic and sales.”

Rob Tobin of Tobin Jewelers, a two-store enterprise in suburban Milwaukee, has participated in Small Business Saturday the last two years. Though Tobin says both of his stores benefit from a loyal shopper base, he relishes the opportunity to show his small business pride and capitalize on swelling interest in the initiative. He also enjoys Small Business Saturday’s ability to counter the traditional lull his stores see on Black Friday, an annual holiday season dark spot.

“Small Business Saturday pumps some life back into the store,” Tobin says.

At Freedman Jewelers, Freedman says his store has enjoyed nice runs with Small Business Saturday, with some customers even preordering ­jewelry and purchasing it specifically on the shopping holiday. “I think people feel good about supporting local commerce.”

And though Mark David of Danville, Va.–based Ben David Jewelers, a 55-year-old, family-owned establishment sitting in the shadow of Wal-Mart and a large shopping mall, has found little success in his participation thus far, he remains interested to learn how other jewelry store operators have capitalized on the day.

“I think [Small Business Saturday] has some potential, but we haven’t found the right mix just yet,” David says. “As small businesses, though, one of the great advantages we have is the abilty to make decisions and execute immediately.”

Here are five ways jewelry stores can get the most from Small Business Saturday:

The Tobin Jewelers family—proud participants in Small Business Saturday for the past two years

1. Prepare and plan.

Given the noise and marketplace chatter that Black Friday and Cyber Monday generate, Reyhle suggests that retailers begin defining their Small Business Saturday plans at least 30 days in advance of this Nov. 29. The strategy should include specifics around marketing, such as how the shop will use social media and contact the local press, along with a timeline for collecting event necessities such as bag stuffers, prizes, or treats for guests. “You want to make sure your shop and Small Business Saturday get their piece of the holiday shopping hype,” Reyhle says.

2. Leverage resources.

The event “pumps some life back into the store,” says Rob Tobin, who operates locations in Mequon and New Berlin, Wis.

The American Express–led Small Business Saturday team aims to create a turnkey experience for independent retailers with a national advertising campaign and free marketing collateral. Last year, small business owners accessed more than 346,000 free online tools at ShopSmall.com, Small Business Saturday’s online home. That included balloons, tote bags, welcome mats, and downloadable signage as well as social media and email templates. “We know small businesses are very busy, so our PR and marketing team has done the work for them,” Reyhle says.

3. Make it unique.

Reyhle urges retailers to think of the day as the ceremonial kickoff to the holiday season and to explore ways they can offer a distinctive, memorable experience. In 2013, Schifter amplified Casale’s Small Business Saturday efforts with a DJ, food and drink, and giveaways. Sales rose 10 percent over his breakout 2012. “Anybody can have a sale, but we find our customers want to participate in something fun, something bigger,” Schifter says. “It’s not just another Saturday in our store.”

4. Join forces. 

Planning to join stores like New Berlin’s Tobin Jewelers? October is the perfect time to start prepping.

Often led by a chamber of commerce or merchant association, small businesses are increasingly joining forces to generate attention and energy for the event. Shoppers in one California town, for instance, received a punch card to visit local shops and earned special offers and prizes along the way. Small Business ­Saturday’s Neighborhood Champion program, meanwhile, provides groups of 10 or more local ­businesses a free event kit with branded merchandise to help rally the community. “The spirit of Small Business Saturday comes alive when the community comes together,” Reyhle says.

5. Offer special incentives.

During the holiday season, consumers have a seemingly unending appetite for deals, and it’s no different on Small Business Saturday. Last year, Casale ­Jewelers offered Good Work(s) bracelets to customers who spent more than $150; Freedman ­Jewelers took $25 off any purchase over $150, a deal the store trumpeted on its blog, on social media outlets, and in an email to its customer database. Outside of product discounts, shops might also offer complimentary services, such as giftwrapping or engraving. “After all the buzz that Black Friday generates,” Freedman says, “we need to give people a reason to shop.”

Thinking of participating in Small Business Saturday on Nov. 29?
Visit shopsmall.com for free marketing materials. Plus, ­discover which other neighborhood retailers are taking part!