Outside the big box

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.

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.

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.

Nationwide, mom-and-pop stores can get plenty of help from Small Business Saturday sponsors to get the word out. There are free templates of emails and Facebook posts to send customers. FedEx will print two free copies of a company’s Small Business Saturday poster. Twitter will provide $100 in free advertising credits to the first 10,000 new business users who open Twitter accounts.

And for shoppers, those who use their American Express card this 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.

“It’s a gift of hope that small-business owners desperately need. It’s proving to be more and more effective in restoring hope . and in reminding consumers to shop local throughout the year.”

Small Business Saturday

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

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