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Small Business Saturday will soon be upon us and since all store owners and managers are hoping and working toward getting a bigger piece of "the pie (aka holiday shopping)," here are a few thoughts toward achieving that goal.  For those of you with negative feelings toward American Express, and that appears to be most of you, I have news.  Your customers do not know the difference between the "Buy Local" campaign usually set up and endorsed by a local Chamber of Commerce or a group of committed, locally-owned, independent merchants and the Small Business Saturday campaign of American Express fame.

In fact, most customers, as well as a large number of journalists, do not know there is a difference behind the two plans.  Do you?  Do you know the difference and could you explain it to someone else?  Here it is.

Small Business Saturday is about all American Express.  American Express devised a no-fail plan for bringing business to . . . American Express and they get free communication of their plan over TV, radio and in print.  Shoppers are encouraged to use their AE cards in locally-owned shops and boutiques.  This accomplishes two things for American Express.  It encourages shoppers to use their American Express cards and (AE hopes) encourages more retailers to accept American Express cards.  And, the winner is . . . American Express. 

The buy local campaign is completely different and has little to do with American Express.  It is all about benefiting the local community as a whole by buying from independently-owned local businesses.  Here's the kicker:  Your customers believe that local, independently-owned means any shop in the neighborhood or close too the neighborhood.  After all, the person who owns their own franchised business is local.  Americans, at large, do not realize the difference. 

That does not mean that you should ignore Small Business Saturday (SBS) in an attempt to "get back" at American Express even if you do not ever accept American Express cards.  What it means is that you need to educate your customers and potential customers about the difference and the benefits to them of buying local.

If you are not currently involved in a buy local campaign, Small Business Saturday is a perfect time to start.  After all, AE is footing the advertising bill (well the part not given to them for free!) to get shoppers out and in a buying frame of mind.  So use it.  Prepare for it.  Take advantage of it.  Meet some new customers and increase your business. 

Introduce yourself and your store to new potential customers and remind your established customers why they love to shop with you.  Get a Buy Local banner, sticker or signage to display and meet and greet the shoppers.  If American Express can get new customers into your store for you, great!  Now you have a chance to educate them on the value of doing business with you, on what your store does for the community at large and how you are different from the chain stores and discount stores.  Talk about value vs. cost, and about durability and about investing in the community.

Ask for their email address and use it.  Send them notice of sales or new merchandise arrivals with a brief point about what buy local means to the community.  If you need help, read our article titled The Benefits of Buying Locally.

Keep in mind, if your customers cannot distinguish a difference between your product and that of a chain/discount store, money will be the deciding factor nearly every time and let's face it, the bigger stores get bigger breaks.  So be prepared to explain about your services, the quality of your merchandise, or, if applicable, the uniqueness of your goods.  It is imperative that you also educate your customers on the value of doing business with you.  This does not mean lecture! This is about understanding both your customer and your products.  Know your customer. 

Things you might point out are the difference the quality of the goods will show after dry-cleaning/laundering several times.  Currently, it is popular with a certain group of shoppers to buy American made.  If you sell American-made items, be sure to let your customers know.  If your American-made items are locally produced, be sure to feature that manufacturer/designer in some way.  This could be in a newsletter or a social media page.  Each of these adds value to your merchandise.

When Small Business Saturday is past, keep your name before your new customers with newsletters, notices of sales, or social media postings.  If you want to use American Express's recipe for success, here's the formula: 

  1. Find a local charity to support.  We all love American Heart Association or the Cancer Society, but those aren't local.  Support your local food pantry, your firefighters, or police.  To increase appeal, avoid charities associated with elections.

  2. Call your local news crews to let them know the plan.  Are you having a drive for canned goods with a 1000 can goal?  Are you collecting coats for the local homeless shelter?  Then let the local journalists get the word out to help make this a success.

  3. Talk about it all year through.  Mention your success and talk about the plans for next year.  Use social media.  The nice thing about social media is that you don't have to say much . . . just say something.

If that doesn't appeal (reminder, it's a plan that has been tested for multiple years and preforms better each year) you can always do a local promotion.  Join with another (or a small group of other) locally owned, independent businesses that compliment each other but do not compete.  An idea might be Carol's Flower Shop, Alessandro's Fine Italian Restaurant, Tom's Menswear, and the local live theater offering a special package for an evening out or a percentage of the proceeds going to a local charity.  Each of the businesses benefit from new customers and the customer(s) get a fine evening out.

If your Chamber of Commerce isn't doing the work, then you do it.  You live there and know who needs help so offer some help.  Get some commitments from other local business owners.  Ask "Brett's" Office Supply to print some circulars.  Put them in the bag of each purchase for a month and pass them out to your customers.  Plan on a small start and then run with success.

Teach by example before you teach with words, but, by all means do both!

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