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Holiday shopping season kicks off with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday push

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By Tracy Harris

Social media efforts helped drive sales on Main Street during Small Business Saturday Nov. 24, although retailers in other areas of the county report mixed results.

Created by American Express in 2010, the event encourages shoppers to visit local stores on the Saturday after Thanksgiving — the day after Black Friday.

Local merchants rely on Facebook and other social media tools to promote the event, while American Express advertises nationally on television. American Express also provides promotional materials to retailers.

Store owners on Main Street in La Grange and in Prospect reported strong sales for the 2012 event.

Some offered special deals — a 2-for-$20 sale on bagged coffee at La Grange Coffee Roasters was a popular buy, according to owner Chris Cockrell.

Cockrell said he saw a boost in his Saturday sales similar to Small Business Saturday in 2011, selling a mix of prepared beverages and retail items like bagged coffee and brewing supplies.

Facebook posts drew in local shoppers, he said, but out-of-town visitors found their way by a surprise source — Siri, the iPhone’s voice-activated personal assistant.

When people traveling on I-71 asked Siri to find them a coffee shop, Cockrell’s store was one of the top options. And with its descriptive name, many decided to stop by.

The holiday spirit extended to beverage choices, too — brown sugar cinnamon lattes, peppermint lattes and hot caramel apple cider were popular choices.

Ellie Troutman, owner of three stores on Main Street, said business was “phenomenal.”

Her three stores — Absolutely Fabulous, the 1887 Corner Store and the Treasured Child — recorded high sales beginning with Wednesday, Troutman said.

“Friday was good but Saturday blew it away,” she said.

Troutman said many shoppers cite the Small Business Saturday event as their reason for shopping local that day.

While she promoted the event online, Troutman said she relied on existing evening extended hours and discounts to attract shoppers.

Year-round, customers who spend $50 across the three stores receive a 5 percent discount, Troutman said.

And, her shops are open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., providing the evening shopping hours Main Street shops previously lacked.

Locally-made ornaments and pottery were popular purchases, she said, as well as silicone lids that fit a variety of containers. 

The event provides a counter to the big box and chain Black Friday sales, but it hasn’t caught on everywhere.

Tom McShane, owner of Hewn From The Mountain Music Cafe in Crestwood, said his business wasn’t impacted by the Small Business Saturday event. 

He said his business lacks foot traffic — and says its poor timing for a local shopping blitz.

Even though the event is scheduled to counter Black Friday sales, when big box and chain retailers slash prices, McShane thinks it would do better in December.

“It seems like most people have already spent beyond their paycheck on Black Friday, and may need some time to replenish their funds,” he said. “My best days last year were on the week of Christmas.”

Crestwood and Prospect businesses both lack foot traffic — nothing’s connected, said Kathy Jacobs, Prospect Area Chamber of Commerce executive director.

But several Prospect stores saw an uptick in sales after promoting Small Business Saturday.

Ladybug Gifts, which moved back to Prospect after a two-year stint in Norton Commons, used several methods to promote Small Business Saturday, said Bob Smedley, who owns the store with his wife, Angel.

Smedley said they promoted the event on Facebook and through a text message-based customer loyalty program.

During the week leading up to the event, Smedley said they also handed out flyers on card registration and even helped register a few in the store.

“It was very successful for us,” he said. 

About 35 customers used their American Express card Saturday, he said — seven times more than an average Saturday.

Free in-store monogramming was a perk Ladybug Gifts offered, and Smedley said jewelry, ornaments and nutcrackers were popular items.

Brownsboro Hardware also promoted the event, and tied it to opening a holiday store inside its new greenhouse next to the store’s Prospect location.

Owner Jim Lehrer said the store received a strong response to the event — and a “great response” to the more than 40 trees displayed inside the greenhouse.

Lehrer said he believes not only is Small Business Saturday growing in popularity, but so is shopping local year-round.

Nationally, Small Business Saturday grew this year — a total of $5.5 billion was spent at independent merchants by people aware of the event, according to a study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Shoppers using an American Express credit card were eligible for a $25 credit if they spent at least that much at a registered independent retailer.

“Consumers are becoming more conscientious of where they spend their dollars,” Lehrer said.