Small Business Saturday gaining a following

Effort encourages consumers to shop at local merchants





Since launching in 2010, Small Business Saturday has attracted more interest by local retailers nationwide, according to a recent survey of 500 U.S. small business owners:

18 percent will advertise on radio, TV or newspaper (up from 9 percent in 2012).

33 percent will offer a free gift with purchase (up from 20 percent in 2012).

36 percent will offer coupons or discounts.

70 percent say it will help attract new customers.

SOURCE: National Federation of Independent Business and American Express

Amid the chirping, twittering and fluttering, The Bird Shop in Sacramento, Calif., has all the sounds of a bustling holiday season. From her perch amid dozens of chattering parrots, parakeets, cockatiels and canaries, third-generation owner Tiffany Latino is counting on strong sales in the weeks ahead.

And there's one day she's particularly zeroed in on: this weekend's Small Business Saturday, a nationwide event to encourage holiday shoppers to spend some dollars at local, independent businesses.

With fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, small businesses say they need the holidays -- and the attention focused on Nov. 30 -- to go out big.

At The Bird Shop, it could signal that things are perking up for good. Having survived a discouraging droop in sales during the recession, "this year has been better than last year, so it's our third year of creeping back up," said Latino, whose shop has been family-owned for nearly 35 years.

"I'll be happy to finish out the year in a big way," she said, a red-headed parrot nibbling on a lock of her hair.

The country's 23 million small businesses account for about 54 percent of all U.S. retail sales, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. But with unemployment still stubborn and consumer confidence wobbly, many are nervous.

"With good reason. Your average bookstore owner, restaurateur or auto-shop owner has a lot of concerns and frustrations with the economy," said John Kabateck, California director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "That's why 'shopping small' is a big deal in an uncertain economy."

Now in its fourth year, Small Business Saturday appears cemented in place as a reminder to consumers to "shop local" not only during the holidays, but year-round. It's been recognized by Congress, endorsed by the SBA, and supported by American Express and the NFIB.

At The Bird Shop, Latino said the day is a way to thank loyal customers and attract new ones. "We'll probably get an extra 30-40 people that day," said Latino, who plans to offer sale prices on wrought-iron birdcages, "deep discounts" on bird toys, treats and seeds, and $5 off $30 purchases.

To get the word out on Small Business Saturday, she and her 10 employees are sending emails, handing out fliers and posting reminders on the shop's Twitter and Facebook accounts.

About 70 percent of small-business owners -- those with fewer than 100 employees -- say the Saturday event helps draw customers, according to a recent joint survey by the NFIB and American Express. And 18 percent -- double the proportion in 2012 -- plan to advertise their participation on radio, TV or in newspapers.

The holiday shopping season is crucial for many of the 400 to 500 small businesses in midtown Sacramento, said Emily Baime Michaels, executive director of the Midtown Business Association. "Many of our retailers see 50 percent of their annual revenues in December, so it's really critical that we get shoppers to support these local businesses," she said.

Unlike other communities with big-box and chain stores that can harness large advertising budgets to attract shoppers, local venues are mostly on their own. Easily "99 percent of our businesses are locally owned and very mom-and-pop stores," said Baime Michaels.

And for shoppers, those who use their American Express card Saturday to buy at least $10 of merchandise from a qualifying local retailer can get a free $10 credit on their next bill.

Does Small Business Saturday really work? "The numbers speak for themselves," said Kabateck, director of California's NFIB, who said consumers spent an estimated $5.5 billion nationwide on Small Business Saturday last year.