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On Small Business Saturday, expect free cookies, loyalty rewards, and holiday cheer. But maybe not big discounts.
For small business owners, surviving the past few years of closings, empty stores and supply chain shortages has been no small feat.
Now there’s another monster rearing its head: inflation.
“Our expenses have skyrocketed,” said Tina Miller, owner of Walkabout Outfitter, a family-owned chain in Virginia that sells outdoor gear.
This is mostly in payroll, Miller said, but she also expects the cost of her inventory to rise significantly.
Plus, Miller feels pressure to keep its prices down. She says sales are flat-lined compared to last year.
Miller hopes to see things pick up this weekend, on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. But she is worried.
“Are people going to back off? Are they going for less? I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Miller said.
“I try very optimistic.”
Small Business Saturday: An Origin Story
Small Business Saturday is a relatively new concept. It was started in 2010 by American Express, as a way to get attention and customers to small businesses after the financial downturn of 2008 and 2009.
About $0.68 of every dollar spent on small businesses remains in the local community, according to a report by American Express.
And in 2011, the Senate passed a resolution recognizing the day, to encourage people to buy local produce.
Free cookies instead of sales
With soaring costs and slim profit margins, many small businesses simply can’t afford the massive discounts and blanket sales that big retailers put on this weekend, so they use other things to lure shoppers.
NPR has been tracking the status of several small businesses since the pandemic began, and we reached out to three to see what they can expect this shopping season.
Miller, the owner of Walkabout Outfitter, nearly went bankrupt in 2020. To survive, she launched an online store as well.
Miller said many of her clients, mostly women ages 40 to 50, now prefer to shop online, but her brick-and-mortar stores are still important to her business.
Miller hopes the personal experience will attract customers to her store this weekend, since she doesn’t plan to sell a lot.
Shopping perks IRL? Free cookies and coffee.
What makes the weekend special isn’t the prices, however, Miller said, it’s the atmosphere.
“I see all the people I might not see all year long,” Miller said. “It’s usually crowded, noisy, fun and people are in a great mood.”
Giving in the spirit of the holiday
Juby George started Smell the Curry – an Indian takeaway and restaurant company – last December, after being a programmer for more than 20 years.
Inflation has pushed up ingredient prices – everything from meat to vegetables is now more expensive. But George is not willing to pass that burden onto his clients. Instead, it tries to rework the menu to keep prices constant.
George is providing discounted meals to those in need this holiday season. He also gives leftovers to a local charity. ‘Nothing is lost on my end,’ said George.
Count on loyalty
Patty Riordan is the owner of the Smoke Stack Hobby Shop in Lancaster, Ohio, which sells model trains and craft supplies.
It’s doing what it always did on Small Business Saturday: Riordan’s got a loyalty program for its customers, and they’ll double those rewards if they buy that weekend.
Riordan is excited to show off a new train set, which her store acquired after a story about the store aired on NPR in August.
Sales at The Smoke Stack have slowed in recent months. But Riordan is hopeful this weekend. She views it as an indicator of what sales will look like for the rest of the year.
“If it’s really hard, that’s, to me, kind of saying the next four weeks are going to be tough. If it’s soft, we’re going to set our thinking limits.”
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