Retailers look for local ‘#shopsmall’ support

Posted 11/29/18

Sandwiched between Black Friday – the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season – and this week’s Cyber Monday, the event known as “Small Business Saturday” may not cause as much buzz for some shoppers.

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Retailers look for local ‘#shopsmall’ support

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Sandwiched between Black Friday – the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season – and this week’s Cyber Monday, the event known as “Small Business Saturday” may not cause as much buzz for some shoppers.

But for Chatham County’s locally-owned small retailers, it scores big at the cash register and can help make or break a business year.

Created in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday was a chance for a business such as Pittsboro’s New Horizons West to leverage its strengths against big-box and online retailing behemoths.

“I don’t think that shoppers get the customer service at the bigger stores that they get from a local shop,” said Michelle Gagliano, the outdoor gear and clothing store’s manager, while helping customers Saturday. “I’ve worked here a little over a year and I have customers that I consider friends. You get to know people and they get to know you, and you know what they’re looking for. You’re buying from people you know and helping the place that you live grow stronger.

“We have people who come in and say that they would much rather shop with us than the big box store because they are proud to shop locally,” she said.

The U.S. Small Business Association says 28 million small businesses accounted for 54 percent of retail sales in the United States last year. Some 108 million Americans shopped at small businesses on Small Business Saturday in 2017, spending an estimated $12.9 billion, according to a Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey.

“Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity for our local businesses to leverage a national marketing campaign to generate their own buzz,” said Alyssa Byrd, Interim President of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation.

And spending locally on Small Business Saturday goes beyond just finding unique items; it’s an investment in the county.

“When we talk about shopping locally, we often cite the potential sales tax revenue loss for Chatham County, but an even bigger loss is the potential revenue for locally-owned small businesses,” Byrd said. “Small businesses create jobs, invest in the local economy and contribute to the character of our communities.”

This year, that investment is expected to increase. The National Retail Federation estimated that November and December sales will increase for retailers of all sizes as much as 4.8 percent from last year over last year. Nearly half of all holiday shoppers planned to spend more on Small Business Saturday purchases this year, according to a survey, and nearly two-thirds planned to spend at least $100. A new Small Business Economic Impact Study from American Express says nearly two-thirds of every dollar spent at a locally-owned small business stays in the community.

Recognizing your customers helps, according to Jake Brower, an artist and barista at Courtyard Coffee at Peppercorn in Siler City.

“I don’t know all of the people that come in by name right away,” Brower said, “but there is a familiarity there. You get to know people. You remember their faces and they remember yours.”

Small businesses give customers “that friendly smile and that personal touch” that you sometimes don’t find at larger stores, he said.

“I think you especially find it here in Siler City,” Brower said. “People give more of their time and get to know you. That attitude carries over into all of the small businesses here.”

Another benefit of shopping locally is the exclusivity of unique items, according to Kitty Mecham, who along with her husband John, own Liquidambar Gallery and Gifts in downtown Pittsboro.

Those tempted to shop online or search for similar items at big box stores will be out of luck, she added.

“Shoppers can’t just go to a big box store and buy what we have,” Mecham said. “We have one-of-a-kind, handmade items.”

“What we sell is unique,” said Mariah Wheeler, owner of Pittsboro’s The Joyful Jewel. “You’re not going to be able to walk into just any store and buy what we sell.”

Sue Szary, owner of Twin Birch & Teasel, described many small business owners as “makers.”

“We are makers in Siler City,” she said. “All through the downtown area, we have artists that make their original items and sell them right here. Their storefronts are unlike any other store in the world.”

But Szary hasn’t limited herself to just walk-in traffic. Twin Birch has utilized the internet to help expand her brand of handcrafted birch wood fiber tools, eclectic selection of yarns, roving, spinning wheels and accessories, fiber-related jewelry, fair trade African baskets and bowls, and work by local craftspeople and artisans.

“We sell our products all over the world,” she said. “We have a fairly strong internet presence.” Still, Small Business Saturday still remains vital for Chatham’s “mom and pop” retailers.

“(It’s) a big day for us,” Mecham said. “We wouldn’t be here without our loyal customers. But we also have a really strong support from the Pittsboro Business Association and the Main Street Program.”

For the last several years, the Pittsboro Business Association has sponsored the Pittsboro Holly Days as a way to encourage shopping in downtown; Small Business Saturday was featured as part of the celebration this past weekend. Retailers in downtown Siler City are also promoting holiday shopping through the Holiday Sip & Shop on Sunday afternoons.

The holiday season is in full swing but Byrd wants customers to continue their patronage all year.

“Small Business Saturday is a fun way to celebrate small businesses, but it’s important for us to support them year-round,” Byrd said.


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