Summer 2016
Innovative Shop-Small Events Across America

Back in 2010, American Express held its first ever Small Business Saturday on the day after Black Friday; the event is designed to encourage holiday shoppers across the country to support small, local businesses by creating awareness; and offering special promotions, discounts, events and opportunities to donate special savings to local charities.

During the past five years, millions of individuals, businesses and communities have embraced Small Business Saturday, showing support for neighborhood shops nationwide. American Express supports the small businesses who take part by offering free marketing materials, including an email template, in-store signage, and completed social media posts.

According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, in 2015, Small Business Saturday garnered $16.2 billion, exceeding 2014 by 14 percent. “It’s very encouraging to see small businesses participate every year and more shoppers giving local entrepreneurs a chance to compete for their business,” says Dan Danner, NFIB’s President and CEO. “Americans are returning to Main Street for the things they need and, ultimately, that’s a very healthy economic trend.”

Cynthia Cannon, owner of Sunrise Boutique, a Clinton, MA-based specialty store that sells unique gifts, raffled off 25 pairs of Goodhew Socks to celebrate the day. “We are a community of about 13,000 people and a number of merchants got together to hold a small craft fair on the day, which went very well,” she says. “We also had free movies at the movie theater, a model train display at the abandoned firehouse and each store did something to get people excited about coming in; for us, it was the socks.”

Cannon’s favorite thing about the day is that American Express does all the marketing for the small businesses. “They created such an awareness in people’s minds—we could never reach out that far,” she says. “It blows me away as to how huge an event it has become. They are helping every small business.”
On Amelia Island, “Captain Pajama,” aka Dave Voorhees, drew people to the Pajama Life store and the local community by teaming with the Historic Fernandina Business Association to host a pajama party and pajama contest on Black Friday, and the sales extended to the next day.

Cindy Jones, owner and formulator of Colorado Aromatics Cultivated Skin Care, notes her store is not normally open on Saturdays, but she opened the doors this year and held an open house, celebrating Small Business Saturday. “We served refreshments—healthy ones since we like to promote a healthy lifestyle as part of our business model—and had some games, too,” she says. “Our esthetician came in to answer any questions customers had about skin care, and it brought in new customers who wanted to try our skin care line.”

This was the first time the business had taken part in the event, and Jones was glad they did. “I think the concept of Small Business Saturday has been gaining ground with consumers and many of them know about it and are willing to support small business through it,” she says. “It does take a little time to print flyers and get notices on calendars, but we want customers to think of us when they think of gift buying, so it pays off in the long run.”

catherine-nicoleAs a small-business owner, Catherine N. Cottingham, owner of Catherine Nicole, a jewelry boutique in Austin, Texas, has been onboard with Small Business Saturday from the start. “After all, it’s an opportunity to potentially level the playing field for a day. Not only is the consumer asked to look beyond the big brands for one day, but they’re also given an opportunity to feel good about their purchases,” she says. “We have to distinguish ourselves from the mega retailers and provide them with an incentive to shop with us. Often that incentive is just reminding them that we’re there.”

Over the years, the store has offered substantial discounts for the event (up to 40 percent off!), and last year it doubled its philanthropic donation given for each purchase made at the store. “The response is generally quite positive—certainly never negative,” Cottingham says. “The bigger the discount, the more of a positive response I received. Creating a separate sale for Small Business Saturday from Black Friday was more lucrative.”

This year, Cottingham’s store made sure that customers got the most out of their shopping experience. The business added a coupon on its website, created a promo image to explain the sale, sent a newsletter and posted the promo image to its social media outlets.

ca-photoA.J. Fountain, owner of Dr. Squatch Soap Co. in Colorado, teamed up with six companies in the Rocky Mountains to each give away $300-plus in retail gifts through a social media contest. “All the contestants had to do was tag their friends and they were entered to win the set of amazing gifts,” he says. “It was extremely well-received. We were not only able to engage in our posts with hundreds of new and old followers, we were also able to cross-promote with some other great companies’ followers. This was especially effective because of the shared demographics we shared in consumers, and the timing of the contest being right around the Christmas buying season rush.”

Fountain says that making the connections, and getting the approval and marketing copy down was a breeze, and he teamed with other small businesses in the Colorado Original Outdoor Products collective. “Ask someone on the street if they like to support small business and they’ll likely say ‘yes,’” Fountain says. “It’s our job to simply give them opportunities to do that, and Small Business Saturday is a perfect opportunity for that and it’s already established,” he says. “We believe strongly in the growing support and spending power American consumers are shifting to in support of small, local business.”

Keith Loria

Keith Loria is a seasoned writer who has written about business, entertainment and sports. When not writing, he enjoys spending time with his daughters Jordan and Cassidy. He can be reached at
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