It’s that time again; time to avoid the mall, back away from your laptop shopping cart, and step into your small town businesses. This Saturday, November 25 is the seventh annual Small Business Saturday and it’s the local equivalent to the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, rallying communities to support their brick and mortar stores.
Although the most visible part of the campaign encourages consumers to patronize retail businesses, the founding of Small Business Saturday included the drive for the support of all locally-owned businesses including those in a service industry such as salons, auto care centers, healthcare offices and restaurants. The increase in business can have a substantial boost to the friends and neighbors that are the heart of our community businesses.
The path of Small Business Saturday has been a decidedly noticeable one. Launched in 2010 as a partnership between National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express, in the city of Boston, Mass., the results were astounding. A year later, the U.S. Senate supported the effort and within two years, all 50 states were participating. Nationally, 112 million people shopped Small Business Saturday last year. In Minnesota, it’s estimated that a whopping 99.5% of all businesses are locally-owned small businesses, including an estimated 2,000 plus in Fillmore County.
“Awareness of our small businesses has gotten so much more widespread,” says Preston Chamber of Commerce Director Gabby Kinneberg. “Small Business Saturday reminds everyone that they’re here.”
“It’s a really good avenue for small businesses,” adds Kinneberg. “The amount of things they get for being in the program is nice for our small communities.” She speaks to the massive influx of marketing American Express put into the program getting it off the ground in 2010. The company has sunk a substantial amount into making local businesses thrive through promotional materials, accessibility of online and social media advertising and a call of urgency to communities to back their businesses. This rings especially true for businesses within smaller communities that have limited marketing funds available.
“It’s really about getting awareness and to at least remind everyone that the businesses are here,” says Kinneberg.
Not all businesses are unified in partnership promotion or community-wide event schedule, depending on what works best for their business. Local commerce leaders stress it’s key for consumers to support those participating on an individual basis as well. Local businesses can capitalize on affordability over large stores, superior customer service, and the availability of one-of-a-kind or customizable gifts. “I think people are getting back to more personalized gifts and people are engaging in this promotion,” adds Kinneberg.
“It lets our region know that there are small shops in our little town that make excellent places to not only purchase one of a kind gifts but that are open at all times of the year. They don’t always need to head up to Rochester to find what they need,” echoes Cheryl Krage, Director of Lanesboro Chamber of Commerce.
Some cities are just getting into the swing this year. Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce has a Buy Local Committee and opted to try the promotion this year. “We’re hoping for a good response,” says Ann Keim, chamber director. “A lot of business people are working on different sales. Customers can take advantage of this good opportunity to shop.” Keim says the Spring Valley events kick off at 8 a.m. at the public library, where the first 30 shoppers will receive Spring Valley Bucks to use around town at chamber-member businesses.
In other areas such as Preston, Mabel, Lanesboro, and in the Rushford Peterson Valley, the promotion has been an annual event. Besides having a positive effect on the businesses themselves, the event has been an asset for the communities.
In Mabel, the events, including the craft fair which supports vendors from Mabel and the surrounding areas, have grown so much that they’ve been expanded to a second location. Proceeds from vendor fees are donated right back to causes within the community. “The business association and the City of Mabel have partnered to promote it,” says Business Association Secretary/Treasurer LeAnn Wickett. “It brings the community together and helps businesses at the same time. It’s really worked out well.”
Lanesboro will have community outreach additions to its events as well. Stations for Hat and Mitten Collection, Fillmore County Food Collection, and Gift Collection for Christmas in Fillmore County will be located around town. The day will be part of a larger community event that also includes a downtown Christmas Tree Lighting to be held November 24. “Our business community has really worked together in order to make this event successful,” adds Krage. “I’m hoping to have our local residents spend some time downtown this year. There are a lot of great things planned for them!
The promotion does seem to have a strong cycle of giving to not just the businesses, but to the community, and then back to the businesses. In the Rushford Peterson Valley, Chamber of Commerce Director Jen Hengel says recognition of the day has brought an awareness of how much businesses contribute to the community in which they reside.
“With that awareness factor, people can see that there are things right here and that you don’t have to leave town,” says Hengel. “The hardware store has pet supplies and clothing, Sterling Pharmacy has home goods and clothing, Hammel Equipment has toys. We don’t always remember all they offer. It’s about getting the word out.”
Hengel also echoed the growing movement of having fewer things. “A salon pedicure, car wash certificates, and massage certificates can be great gifts. It’s about the services, too.” The Rushford Peterson Valley has participated in the event for many years, largely on an individual business basis and by marketing who’s open and what they offer. Now, they’re looking for a more collective effort from the businesses to support both the community and each other. This year, a reward scavenger hunt will take place, beckoning customers to stop at as many places as possible.
“I love the quote that says, ‘When you buy from a small business an actual person does a little happy dance.’ Think of all they ways they’re invested in their community; donations to civic organizations or schools,” reminds Hengel. “We have to keep them here.”