Eight years ago, American Express came up with an intriguing campaign. It seems that the massive corporation had just realized something that individual brick and mortar, owner/operated, non-franchised businesses had known for a long time.
Big box retail was eating the lion’s portion of Black Friday sales, and what they didn’t consume was being taken up by e-commerce on Cyber Monday.
That issue wasn’t confined to the two biggest shopping days of the year.
Small, “local” businesses had been suffering for some time and for a number of reasons. Local brick and mortar shops required that shoppers actually (GASP! GASP!) leave their house to go shopping instead of sitting at home in front of their computers and browsing the internet while still in their pajamas and sipping cocoa. Even if shoppers were willing to go out and actually face other living and breathing people like themselves, local shops didn’t typically have the vast array of products or the “Christmas special items” at a price that could compete with the mega big box guys.
However, the concern was not only born of commercial concerns.
There was also the very real sense that something important was disappearing. The country was at risk of losing something tied to the very nature of what America had represented for years and what Americans had seen represented for years in holiday movies, holiday greeting cards and, yes, holiday commercials.
Not so easy to name in words, it was, instead, something quickly recognized in the artwork of someone like Norman Rockwell and his images of rosy-cheeked mothers and dads rushing down Main Street carrying an armload of gifts or shop windows with familiar yet beautiful toys where wide eyed children stared through the glass with longing. These images, just like the era they hoped to portray, were at risk of simply fading from life for the vast majority of Americans.
Truth be known, much of that life had faded into memory long before eight years ago. But “much” is not all. There were still some places left and something needed to be done to save them.
Consequently, on November 27, 2010, American Express in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Roslindale Village Main Street launched Small Business Saturday. Scheduled to be held the day after “Black Friday” and promoted by American Express via a nationwide radio and television advertising campaign, Small Business Saturday was “a day to celebrate and support small business for all they do for the communities where they’re located”.
That first year, American Express purchased “advertising inventory” on Facebook, which the corporation in turn gave to its small merchant account holders. Amex also gave rebates to new customers to promote the event. The company further promoted the event using social media, advertising and public relations.
For their part, many politicians and small business groups in the United States issued proclamations and official statements of support concerning the campaign, generating more than one million Facebook “like” responses and nearly 30,000 tweets under the hashtags #smallbusinesssaturday and #smallbizsaturday.
Since then, Small Business Saturday has continued, albeit without the abundance of support exhibited that first year.
And Eads has certainly done its part.
This year, the bulk of the effort for the event will be generated under the direction of Jan Richards of Kiowa County Economic Development Foundation with support from the FBLA students at Eads High School.
To date, Richards has both emailed and called local businesses asking them to post their specials and discounts on their door that day. A flyer will also be distributed in next week’s edition of the Independent giving specifics related to this year’s event. And, in continuance of a great tradition, students with FBLA will be contacting businesses downtown and on the highway to see if owners are interested in providing Christmas decorations that the students will use to decorate their storefronts.
This local response illustrates perhaps the best message about Small Business Saturday. The responsibility for the success of this day lies in part with the small businesses who choose to participate. Of course, it does. But the greater responsibility lies with the public and the choices the public makes about where they choose to spend their dollars.
All year long, local small business owners do whatever they can whenever they can to bring local customers into their establishments. Very often, these are the same people they see at football games on Friday nights or church on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, and for whatever reason, all too often, these same business owners don’t see some of these same people in their businesses during the week as they choose to spend their dollars somewhere else.
Small Business Saturday started as a way to deliberately draw public attention to the support small businesses provide the communities where they are located in hopes that the public would, for their part, support the businesses in return. If anyone doubts just how real—and just how vital—small business support is to small towns, there is no lack of deserted small towns who are an illustration of what can happen.
Against that backdrop, here’s hoping that this year’s Small Business Saturday answers the question—at least for a while—of just how important Kiowa County businesses are to Kiowa County.
After all, Small Business Saturday is, basically, a catchy way of saying…
We’re all in this together.