Lizzy McLellan//Daily Record Business Writer//November 12, 2013
//Daily Record Business Writer
//November 12, 2013
Going small is getting big on Maryland’s main streets.
In its fourth year, Small Business Saturday seems to be building momentum. The consumer “holiday” dreamed up by American Express — this year’s date is November 30 — has been adopted by a number of main street and downtown organizations in cities across the state. The credit card company offers a credit to its card-carrying customers when they use American Express to make a purchase at a participating small business.
“Just in three short years it really had a tremendous impact,” said Patricia Norins, a spokesperson for American Express. “The word is getting out there.”
Several organizations have listed participating stores on mainstreetmaryland.org. One of them, the Downtown Frederick Partnership, embraced Small Business Saturday in 2012. But Frederick was actually ahead of the game — the city’s “Frosty Friday” festivities, which started about six years ago, encouraged area residents to swing by downtown small businesses after getting their big-box Black Friday deals.
Now, the city still holds Frosty Friday downtown, and encourages shoppers to come back the next day as well. Businesses that don’t take American Express can participate by offering their own deals and joining a community event — and consumers without American Express can take part in the deals and festivities.
“I think when people come for these events and see how enthusiastic and unique these merchants are, it really brings them back,” said Brittany Diehl, promotion and social media manager for Downtown Frederick Partnership.
The Bel Air Downtown Alliance has also combined local events with the American Express opportunities — the Festival of Trees, a two-day fundraiser for the Chesapeake Cancer Alliance, also begins on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Bel Air has participated in Small Business Saturday since its inaugural year.
“It’s wildly popular here,” said Scott Walker, executive director of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance. “Each year more and more businesses get involved.”
The nearby Harford Mall provides plenty of heavy Black Friday discounts for Bel Air residents, but the Saturday event allows smaller stores to get a piece of the shopping action.
“As a small business in town it’s really hard to compete with big businesses,” said Ken Rodriguez, co-owner of Bel Air apparel boutique Heartbeat. “The economy of scale doesn’t provide you with the opportunities they have.”
Walker said that he sees the Thanksgiving weekend as an opportunity to show the differences between big-box stores and small businesses rather than as a call to compete.
“We recognize that and we understand that what they’re going to get at our shops is just different than what they’re going to get at those shops,” said Walker. “There’s things I can’t get for my kids on Main Street for sure.”
At Tiny Toes in Bel Air, which sells specialty children’s items, the biggest competition is not department stores on Black Friday, but specialty retail websites on Cyber Monday.
This store, a veteran of Small Business Saturday, is offering $10 off a $50 purchase, said owner Karen Jacobs, but the community and American Express tend to focus more on community support than money-saving as an incentive to shop.
“Last year I would say is the year I really noticed it explode from a customer perspective,” said Jacobs. “By really differentiating their marketing message, it really takes it so it’s not a direct competition.”
Rodriguez said he also noticed an increase in popularity over the years. His store has become busier on Saturday than Black Friday, and customers have mentioned the promotion.
In Southern Maryland, one local business woman saw Small Business Saturday as an opportunity to reach out to other businesses. Tya Bolton, a business and event manager at Exceptional Business Solutions, will host more than 20 businesses at her home that afternoon, giving them a chance to participate in the consumer holiday.
“We’re not telling people to not shop the larger business. We know people need their electronics and more traditional holiday gifts,” said Bolton. “Come to us after going to the big stores.”
Garnering support for this event was a challenge, said Bolton, but she expects it to take off after this year. Likewise, she thinks that Small Business Saturday could eventually become a household name.
“I think it has great potential,” she said. “I don’t think that anything is too big to tackle; you just have to jump out there and do it.”
Walker agrees that the event has potential. Although the marketing from each business, community or downtown organization may be different, he said, the American Express backing provides some consistency to get the word out.
“I think it also speaks to the nature of the small business, that the nature of coming to a small business community is that everything is not cookie cutter,” he said. “Now it gives us a national platform to talk about buying local.”F