Manatee retailers feel boost from Small Business Saturday
MANATEE -- While local big box stores including Kohls, Best Buy and Bealls drew lines of shoppers to their front doors for the evening before Black Friday, owners of some smaller shops are putting more stock in the promise of the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Small Business Saturday, a six-year-old national program that promotes local, independent retailers, has for some small shops become a profitable add-on to start of the holiday shopping crunch. Started by American Express as a way to boost sales for small businesses that accept that company's credit card, the day has garnered more name recognition over the past few years.
"We definitely get people who see it and recognize it who don't want to go to a big box store," said Paul Tobio, owner of Ryder Bikes, a bike shop with locations in Sarasota, south Bradenton and University Place.
Though it has nowhere near the cache in the American shopping psyche as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday started pushing more holiday shopping dollars toward home-town retailers in 2010 by offering $10 to $30 statement credits. AmEx discontinued those credits this year, but is still promoting small business patronage.
According to the "Shop Small" page on the AmEx website, consumers nationwide spent $14.3 billion at small, independent businesses on Small Business Saturday in 2014. The site also estimated that as many as 88 million shoppers patronized small businesses on that single day.
American Express operates a web search that allows visitors to its "Shop Small" page to seek out businesses that are part of its Small Business Saturday. Dozens of Manatee County businesses pop up in the search.
In addition, AmEx offers free marketing materials to small business members of its credit card network and takes out advertisements to promote the day.
On Main Street in Lakewood Ranch, Katy Rose Olive Oils owner Gale Whitson-Schmidt said shopping activity during the first few days after Thanksgiving kicks off the most important season for her six-and-a-half year-old business. Small Business Saturday boosts the store's profile at the right time.
"Black Friday is good for us, but Small Business Saturday is even better," Whitson-Schmidt said.
Whitson-Schmidt said she did see holiday shopping slow somewhat last year at this time, something she attributed to the opening of The Mall at University Town Center. This year, she said, more customers are finding their way to her shop early in the season to pick up olive oil, specialty food items and wine.
At least one local business organization has been pushing its members to remember Small Business Saturday. The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance highlighted the day in its retail industry spotlight for November and encouraged local, bricks-and-mortar shopping.
Although Small Business Saturday is a boost, competing for holiday shopping dollars may have more to do with offering something unique than going toe-to-toe with big-box and online retailers. Tobio said Ryder Bikes sells high-end bicycles and equipment that larger retailers tend not to stock. The holidays do bring more sales for children's bikes and accessories, but as a niche sporting goods retailer, Tobio said he expects almost any Saturday during the year to be a good sales day.
"It's always a busy day for us," he said.
Small business has been getting more local attention of late, with both the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and the Manatee Black Chamber of Commerce pushing entrepreneurial efforts. The vast majority of the members in both those organizations are small businesses.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99.7 of all employers in the nation. They provide 49.2 percent of all private-sector jobs in the country and 33 percent of the value of exported goods. Small businesses are defined as having fewer than 500 employees.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.