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This 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 lockdowns, empty stores and supply chain shortages has been no easy feat.
Now there’s another beast rearing its ugly head: inflation.
“Our expenses have skyrocketed,” said Tina Miller, owner of Walkabout Outfitter, a family-run chain in Virginia that sells outdoor gear.
That’s mostly in payroll, Miller said, but she also expects the cost of her inventory to rise significantly.
Additionally, Miller feels pressure to keep prices low. She says sales have stagnated compared to last year.
Miller hopes to see things pick up again this weekend, for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. But she is worried.
“Are people going to hold back? Are they just going to opt for less stuff? I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Miller said.
“I try to be very optimistic.”
Small Business Saturday: An Origin Story
Small Business Saturday is a relatively new concept. It was launched in 2010 by American Express, to bring attention and customers to small businesses after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.
About $0.68 of every dollar spent on small businesses stays 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.
Free cookies instead of sales
With rising costs and razor-thin profit margins, many small businesses simply can’t afford the massive cuts and sweeping sales that big retailers have staged this weekend, so they’re using other things to lure in. the buyers.
NPR has been tracking the state of several small businesses since the pandemic began, and we reached out to three of them to see what they’re up to this shopping season.
Miller, the owner of Walkabout Outfitter, nearly went bankrupt in 2020. To survive, she also launched an online store.
Many of his customers, mostly women in their 40s and 50s, now prefer to shop online, Miller said, but his physical stores are still crucial to his business.
Miller hopes the in-person experience will draw customers to her store this weekend, as she doesn’t plan to put up much for sale.
The benefits of shopping IRL? Free cookies and coffee.
Miller said what makes this weekend special isn’t the prizes, anyway, it’s the atmosphere.
“I see all the people that maybe I don’t see throughout the year,” Miller said. “It’s generally busy, lively and fun and people are in good spirits.”
Giving in the Holiday Spirit
Juby George launched Smell the Curry – an Indian take-out restaurant and catering business – last December, after working as a programmer for more than 20 years.
Inflation has driven up the price of ingredients – everything from meat to vegetables is now more expensive. But George is unwilling to shift that burden onto his clients. Instead, he’s trying to rework the menu to keep prices stable.
George is offering discounted meals to those in need this holiday season. He also donates leftover food to a local charity. “Nothing gets lost on my part,” George said.
rely on loyalty
Patti 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’s always done on Small Business Saturday: Riordan has a loyalty program for its customers, and they’ll double those rewards if they shop that weekend.
Riordan is thrilled to present a new train collection, which her store acquired after a story about the store aired on NPR in August.
Sales of The Smoke Stack have slowed in recent months. But Riordan is hopeful for this weekend. She sees this as an indicator of what sales will look like for the rest of the year.
“If it’s really strong, then that, to me, sort of says the next four weeks are going to be strong. If it’s soft, then we’ll put on our thinking caps.”