A Day For Small Businesses To Stand Out In The Crowd

Nov 30, 2013
Originally published on November 30, 2013 1:09 pm

After Black Friday has come and gone, a new shopping day arrives: Small Business Saturday.

Small-business owners hope that after you've spent time at the big-box stores and the mall, you'll spend money with the mom-and-pops in your neighborhood.

The idea for the day came out of a committee at American Express in 2010, after the depths of the recession. AmEx President Ed Gilligan loved the idea of creating a new holiday.

"We did make it up, but we didn't make up the reason why it exists," Gilligan says. "I heard this idea of Small Business Saturday and about American Express working to help create movement. It was like a light shining down on me that said, 'This was the best idea I've heard in a long time.' "

Gilligan won't say how much AmEx spends to help small business promote the day. American Express, whose fees are fairly expensive for small businesses, uses the day in part to mend bridges with mom-and-pops who've often shunned the card.

American Express does benefit from Small Business Saturday, Gilligan says, but small stores benefit even more. What's more, the holiday has grown well beyond AmEx's leadership.

Last year customers spent $4.5 billion on the Saturday after Thanksgiving — although they likely spent about 10 times that on Black Friday. The Department of Commerce promotes the day on its calendar, and chambers of commerce and small-business bureaus around the country have adopted the day.

For the past two years, President Obama has celebrated Small Business Saturday by taking his daughters to D.C.-area bookstores.

"It's like watching a snowball go downhill," Gilligan says. "It is gaining momentum. It is bigger than American Express."

Business owners like Kathryn Lundeen, who runs Lundeen's gift store in downtown Culver City, Calif., say they are grateful for Small Business Saturday.

"I don't care that it's a made-up day," Lundeen says. "I love it. I think it's great for us. I think it has really helped us."

Lundeen says that over the past few years she's seen the day's sales totals get bigger and bigger. She says it reminds customers about her store and helps build momentum for her most important time of year.

"Now is the time when I'm most broke, and in two weeks I will have the most money," she says. "Three weeks in December make my whole entire year."

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with the NPD Group, says Small Business Saturday offers an introduction for many small businesses, but it's up to the owners whether the day is make or break.

"Small Business Saturday is a good chance, a good opportunity, for the small main-street retailer to ... put a really good impression in front of the consumer," Cohen says. "If they don't, it'll just fizzle away."

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Black Friday has come and gone, but today's new shopping opportunities, Small Business Saturday; the idea is to encourage people to support smaller, local stores. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: When I say Small Business Saturday, doesn't it sound all made up and stuff?

ED GILLIGAN: We did make it up, but we didn't make up the reason why it exists.

GLINTON: That's Ed Gilligan. He's president of American Express. He himself won't take credit for making up Small Business Saturday, but he will cop to approving the idea when it sort of came out of committee in 2010 after the depths of the recession.

GILLIGAN: I heard this idea of Small Business Saturday and about American Express working to help create a movement and it was like a light shining down on me that says this is the best idea I've heard in a long time.

GLINTON: Now Gilligan won't say how much AmEx spends to help small businesses to promote the day, though American Express, whose fees are fairly expensive for small businesses, can mend bridges with mom and pops who have often shunned the card, like the fictional slimy lawyer, Saul Goodman, from "Breaking Bad."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

GLINTON: Ed Gilligan of American Express says his company does benefit from Small Business Saturday, but he says even if American Express wanted to control it, they couldn't. Four and a half billion dollars was spent last year, though ten times as much will likely be spent with big retailers on Black Friday. The Department of Commerce promotes the day on its calendar and Chambers of Commerce and small business bureaus around the country have taken it on.

GILLIGAN: It's like watching a snowball go downhill, that it is gaining momentum and it's bigger than American Express.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

KATHRYN LUNDEEN: I do care that it's a made up day. I love it. I think it's great for us. I think it has really helped us actually.

GLINTON: Kathryn Lundeen runs Lundeen's Gifts in downtown Culver City, California. She says over the last few years, she's seen the day get bigger and bigger. She says it reminds consumers about her store and helps build the momentum for what's her most important time. Made up or not, she says she needs the day.

LUNDEEN: Now is the time when I'm most broke, and in two weeks I will have the most money. Three weeks in December make my whole entire year.

GLINTON: Lundeen says it's the time when shoppers not only come looking for the local, but the unusual.

LUNDEEN: One of the things that we sell a lot of is that inflatable unicorn head. That's kind of odd. Who knew? Who knew that I would sell so many of those? That's kind of crazy.

GLINTON: I mean, who's coming in for an inflatable unicorn head?

LUNDEEN: Don't ask me. But it's a lot of people want the inflatable unicorn, yeah. I've sold over 100 inflatable unicorn heads.

GLINTON: Lundeen is banking on her mix of the unusual, local venders, local artists, customer service, and just being the lady in the neighborhood to get her over this year. Marshal Cohen is chief retain analyst with the NPD Group. He says Small Business Saturday offers an introduction to many small businesses, but it's up to the owners whether today is make or break.

MARSHAL COHEN: Small Business Saturday is a good chance, a good opportunity for the small main street retailer to really start to take advantage of one of the chances that they can put out a really good impression in front of the consumer if they make it worthwhile. If they don't, it'll just fizzle away.

GLINTON: Cohen says, especially with the Internet, consumers are growing even more and more fickle in demanding of quality customer service. And with all the holidays and promotions, it's not enough to be the store in the neighborhood. It hasn't been for well over a century. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Culver City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.