Connect the Dots: Give Small Business Big Gains

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2014 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:30 pm, Thu Nov 20, 2014.

By Dr. Benjamin Akande

For The Alpine Shop, a retail establishment that specializes in backpacking and camping gear, Small Business Saturday, or the Saturday after Thanksgiving, has become the official kick-off day for holiday shopping. To entice customers, The Alpine Shop, which has stores in Kirkwood, Chesterfield and O’Fallon, Illinois, works with suppliers to drop prices on popular brands by as much as 30 percent.

Traditionally, many big suppliers wait until the week before Christmas to drop prices, but The Alpine Shop’s strategy has paid off handsomely. In recent years, the chain has doubled its sales and attracted twice as many customers during Small Business Days as on Black Fridays.

Millions of small businesses around the country are discovering that Small Business Saturday is a great way to kick-off the holiday shopping season. It also is a wonderful way for customers to support local small business and help boost their city’s economy.

In 2012, consumers spent $5.5 billion at local small businesses and restaurants on Small Business Saturday, according to a survey conducted by American Express and the National Federation of Independent business, a Washington, D.C., trade association.

When you shop at a small business, there’s a good chance you’re supporting a neighbor, friend, church member or old schoolmate. There’s also a good chance you’re helping create job opportunities in your community. In effect, by spending with a local business, you are more likely to have an immediate and meaningful impact on your local community than if you spend with a big-box, multi-national retailer that’s susceptible to the whims of Wall Street.

Small businesses, defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as enterprises with fewer than 500 employees, are the engine of our nation’s economy. They are the biggest job-creators and account for half of the private sector GDP. According to the SBA, in 2011, there were 28.2 million small businesses in the U.S. Small businesses accounted for 63 percent of net new jobs created between 1993 and 2013, and 60 percent of new jobs created after the recession, according to the SBA.

This year, several business districts in the Greater St. Louis region are hosting an array of events to promote small businesses in their communities prior to Small Business Days and throughout the holiday season. On Nov. 29, the City of St. Louis will host a St. Louis Holiday Magic festival, an event that will feature a variety of entertainment and shopping. Several exhibitors will be in attendance, including vendors who will offer gift ideas.

Maplewood and Brentwood have posted Small Business Saturday events on their websites. At many of these events, the downtown boutiques and restaurants of these cities will offer gifts, drawings, treats and discounts.

But supporting local businesses shouldn’t just be confined to festive time, even though most businesses make the bulk of their revenues during that period; it ought to be a year-round endeavor.

For this forthcoming Small Business Day, local small businesses should endeavor to draw customers in with head-turning decorations and aggressive online media promotion. Once inside, they should cultivate them by offering great products and service, coupons, refreshments and opportunities to win gifts. They also should strive to engage customers year-round.

This way, the customer, small business and the community win.

Benjamin Ola. Akande is a professor of economics and dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University.