Black Friday is ancient history scribed on checkbook registers and Cyber Monday is still a credit-card swipe away, but there's no rest for the holiday consumer. Saturday offered its own shopping opportunity, the first-ever Small Business Saturday, created to encourage local consumerism and support of small, independent shops that traditionally rely more on customer relationships than cyber marketing to compete with big-box retailers.
American Express launched Small Business Saturday this year to encourage shoppers to visit locally-owned businesses, which, according to the Small Business Administration, employ half of all private sector employees in the country. The credit card company offered free advertising on Facebook to 10,000 small businesses, and cardholders stood to earn a $25 rebate by shopping at merchants registered through the Small Business Saturday website.
In St. Louis Park, some local business owners knew about Small Business Saturday and prepared in advance, while others simply went about their work as usual. However, whether consciously participating in the event or not, store owners said traditional word-of-mouth advertising and customer relationships are still key to their success as a small business.
Ellen Hertz, owner of , a boutique in the Shops at Excelsior and Grand, knew about Small Business Saturday and registered on the Facebook site. She sells unique, artisan-made jewelry, chocolates and home decor, and her marketing plan includes print, radio and online advertising, but she feels personalized customer service that leads people to recommend Max's is still her best marketing technique.
That was proven somewhat Saturday as Hertz said the online event had not led to a noticeable increase in customer traffic.
"We try to ask people informally how they heard about us, and often they say they heard it from friends," she said.
Other local store owners who had not heard of Small Business Saturday also said they mainly rely on customer loyalty and referrals, rather than cyber marketing, to bring business through the door.
has a Facebook listing, but events coordinator Rene Hernandez had not heard of Small Business Saturday. He said the floral shop has relied mainly on word-of-mouth advertising for 19 years, a technique that seems to work for them.
A reputation for having the oddball items customers need is what brings people in to , according to manager Jon Brown, who also had not heard of Small Business Saturday.
"Big hardware stores carry a few items and a lot of them, and we're just the opposite," he said. "We have a lot of different items, just not so many of each."
But their main strength, he said, is customer service people who can tell customers how to make repairs with the items they buy.
"We're here to help. Everyone here knows how to do everything," Brown said. "You won't have somebody telling you, 'sorry, that's not my department.'"
But while small business owners may still mainly rely on traditional marketing, Small Business Saturday was still relatively successful — the first-year event picked up nearly 1.2 million fans on Facebook, and American Express announced it would extend the promotion through the end of the year.