This year, many business owners I know are treating Small Business Saturday, on Nov. 27, with a growing sense of urgency.
What was once a marketing campaign begun by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday has now become an official event, with nationwide sales at local merchants reaching an estimated $20 billion in 2019.
The pandemic last year, for the most part, suspended things. But now it’s back. And with concerns about supply and labor shortage, many consumers are already shopping early, which means that Small Business Saturday this year has taken on a special meaning for many local merchants. They’re viewing it as a day to generate as many sales as possible while they still have products to sell.
Brandy Deieso, the owner of Little Apple Gift Boutique in Manayunk, has been struggling with inventory shortages that are potentially threatening her holiday season. “I just received a delivery that should have been delivered a month ago,” she said. “I’m already running behind.”
For Deieso, who’s been operating her shop since 2010, Small Business Saturday has always been important. But, like many other merchants, she’s worried about running out of stock before the holidays. So she’s making an effort to join her fellow Manayunk merchants to leverage the day to offer special sales and giveaways that highlight their products. And move her items out the door while they’re still available.
“The whole street gets really involved and the amount of traffic that comes down to support us is awesome,” she said. “I always tell customers like this is the day you want to come down because you’re going to get a lot of great goodies.”
Manayunk isn’t the only community that’s celebrating its merchants. Many of the hundreds of small businesses housed in South Philadelphia’s Bok Building plan to also use the day to put on a pop-up event in the building’s lobby.
“I expect to see a large number of the makers in the building participate,” said Chris Cieri, who owns vegan skin care products retailer Franklin & Whitman. “We’ll have craftspeople and food available. It’s always a wonderful market.”
Cieri, like others, will be offering special promotions around the event, which he hopes will carry sales through the holidays. And, like Deieso, Cieri plans to leverage social media (he has a strong Instagram following) as well as email to promote the event.
It’s the same for Taylor Jenkins, who owns and operates the Philly Game Shop in Society Hill. Jenkins plans to use the day to invite members of the community into her store to try out new products made by local game makers. The idea is to not only sell games but also to build a bigger audience for future sales after the holidays.
“There are a lot of Philadelphia game designers who have great products,” she said. “We’re trying to invite as many as we can to bring their games to the shop for us to sell, of course, but also to demo them and to meet with customers.”
Jenkins, who has run the store since 2019, says she wasn’t able to hold in-person events last year (for obvious reasons) and is counting on this year’s Small Business Saturday to generate extra traffic that will keep sales going into 2022.
“I’m hoping it’s one of the biggest days of the year for us,” she said.
Rachel Riley, a director at the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Board, is also promoting the day heavily to small businesses in her community still recovering from COVID-19.
“I think Small Business Saturday is probably one of the most important days for businesses throughout the year,” she said. “A lot of these businesses, even pre-COVID, didn’t even have a marketing budget, so we need to be the champion for them, and we’re asking the community to stand up and help be their brand ambassadors, too.”
Riley has been the main force behind the organization’s Make It Main Street campaign, which has highlighted small businesses in her area. She plans special posts that promote area merchants ahead of Nov. 27 so that potential customers can not only visit the shops but also buy from them online.
Small Business Saturday has always been a great promotional event that opens the holiday season. But this year, things are a little different. Many small businesses I know are still reeling from the pandemic, while many others are struggling with significantly rising costs and the lack of workers and inventories. The smartest ones I’ve talked to understand these challenges and are viewing Nov. 27 as not just a marketing day, but also an opportunity to drive much-needed sales ahead of what looks like a very uncertain few months.
“We are hoping that the public will shop local and support brick and mortar stores,” said Ed Gamburg who owns Merion Art in Ardmore. “Small Business Saturday is important to us but it is only one day. We need the last quarter of the year to show increases in our sales. After 50 years, it is not business as usual.”
Gene Marks is a certified public accountant and the owner of the Marks Group, a technology and financial management consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd.