By The Herald Editorial Board
If you’re finding the supply-chain crunch has limited your choices for gifts this holiday season, the smart move might be to expand your search somewhere between the big-box frenzy of Black Friday and the repetitive scrolling of Cyber Monday. The answer could be in your own community during Small Business Saturday this weekend.
Started 11 years ago to support local and small businesses, Small Business Saturday, Nov. 27, organizes local businesses, chambers of commerce and downtown organizations nationwide, encouraging shoppers to patronize the small independent shops and businesses in their community, spreading the wealth of the season to help support those businesses and local economies.
And the annual event has made a difference for businesses’ bottom lines and that of the communities where they are based, small business owners say.
“For most small businesses I know, it’s been a huge shot in the arm. It’s tremendous,” said Patti Gibbons, owner of Heavenly Soap in Monroe, as a 72-pound batch of soap simmered in her workshop. “I expect to do four to five times the business I do on a normal Saturday.”
And a healthy turnout of customers this year could be key for small businesses that rely on the few weeks before Christmas to put or keep them in the black for the year, this year especially as local economies have worked to weather the ups and downs of nearly two years of the covid-19 pandemic.
That’s important because cities and towns make the most of the dollars spent in every local retail shop, restaurant or service business.
Patronizing local independent businesses can return up to three times as much money per dollar spent, compared to that spent with chain retailers, according to a study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. For every $100 spent at an independent retailer, $45 is returned to the community in support of other businesses, compared to $14 for the large chain stores. For online retail, the return to the local community barely registers in cash registers: about a $1.
And for restaurants, $100 spent at an independent restaurant returns about $65 to the local economy, compared to $34 for chain restaurants.
“When I have a good Saturday,” Gibbons said, “I might go out for dinner,” she said, putting that money back into the community to be spent again by the restaurant for its supplies and employees, who in turn, can spend their money to support local businesses.
Shopping locally also:
Is better for the environment because many of the items you buy are produced closer to you and require less fuel for transportation.
Supports the public services in your city through the revenue from sales taxes.
Has intangible benefits as well, fostering interaction and closer ties with shop owners, employees and other customers in your city or town.
Most importantly, money spent locally means more support for a community’s jobs and suppliers, which, in turn creates demand and support for other jobs, including teachers, first responders, medical professionals, construction workers and more.
Even during the economic complications of the pandemic, small businesses in Washington state have continued as significant players in state and local economies. More than 647,000 small businesses — those employing between one and 500 workers — make up 99.5 percent of the state’s businesses and employ 50.7 percent of all employees, a total of 1.4 million workers. Even during the pandemic, the state saw net increases in 2020 in both business starts and expansions, as well as a net increase of nearly 347,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s most recent state-by-state small business profiles.
Of the state’s small businesses, most of the employment comes from the self-employed — like Gibbons’ one-woman soap-making operation (with some seasonal help from family and friends) — who account for 491,000 workers; businesses of fewer than 19 employees account for nearly 139,000 employees, while businesses between 20 and 500 employees totaled about 16,800 workers in 2020.
In total, the employment from the state’s small businesses generated a payroll of $71.5 billion in 2020.
Still, it hasn’t been easy for small businesses during the last two years. Along with difficulties in hiring staff, as with their larger cousins, supply-chain issues have also been a frustration for many small businesses. Gibbons, writing a guest commentary for The Herald in October that encouraged support for local businesses, said that supply-chain issues had made it difficult to obtain the lye she needs to make her naturally scented soaps.
“There’s still a bottleneck for a lot of my suppliers,” she said. While her suppliers are based in Seattle and other U.S. locations, many of them get materials from overseas, which has meant waits for certain ingredients and supplies.
Gibbons has resisted the temptation to find substitutes that might be easier to get or less expensive. Serving a clientele of regular customers from her shop in Monroe’s Savoy Building and her website, requires that she maintain quality, she said. That’s another benefit of local businesses; they’re more responsive to customers.
“My customers have come to expect a certain excellence from my products, so I won’t buy stuff that I don’t know,” she said. And for some of her wares, that’s meant asking for patience from customers until she can offer a particular soap or other product.
Those delays in obtaining soap ingredients, she said during an interview this week, have persisted. She’s been able to order enough lye and coconut oil to get her through the year, she said, but it’s been a struggle to obtain containers and specific essential oils used in the soaps.
Among her scented soaps are blackberry sage, almond-cherry, lilac, sandalwood and even a soap called “Monkey Fart,” a blend of kiwi, vanilla, grapefruit, strawberry and — naturally — banana scents.
That’s the other great thing about shopping locally on Small Business Saturday; often you can find something you won’t find anywhere else, like Monkey Fart soap.
And yes, Gibbons said, it’s in stock.