Shop Local for the Holidays

It’s time to toss out the candy corn and grab the candy canes. The Holiday shopping season is here. What’s the hottest trend this year? National “Shop Local” campaigns!

Small Business Saturday revs up for its second year. The Shift Your Shopping campaign takes flight, and Plaid Friday offers a fun alternative to the Black Friday touted by big-box discount stores.

SOTW-11-8-11-2011 SBS LogoSmall Business Saturday 

 Small Business Saturday (SBS) was started in 2010 by American Express Open to drive sales to small businesses and to recognize their vital contributions to the economy, job creation, and local communities. Last year, the campaign racked up more than a million likes on Facebook and generated lots of publicity for America’s independent shops.

For last year’s campaign, the National Trust Main Street Center signed up three Main Street communities that launched Small Business Saturday events to show what could be done on Main Street.

“We got a lot of press coverage—from two stories on the front page of the Peninsula Daily News to a radio spot on the Seattle NPR station,” recalls Mari Mullen, executive director of the Main Street program in Port Townsend, Washington. “It really helped make for a wonderful, busy day in our downtown historic district! We started the event Uptown in a booth at the Farmer's Market with information, gift card entry forms, free Small Business Saturday tote giveaways and caroling with the Wild Rose Chorale.”

The Port Townsend event also featured a Mayoral Proclamation, which took place at noon, followed by children's ornament-making, free gift wrapping, and two live theatre performances. Carriage rides added a festive air, and sidewalks were filled with shoppers carrying their Small Business Saturday totes.

“Many attendees heard about Small Business Saturday on the radio and in the news, but a lot didn’t know that [Port Townsend] was participating,” says Mullen. “Giving them the tote bags when they arrived and having gift card rallies really cemented the deal with them.”

Mullen also found the Facebook tools extremely helpful. “They were inexpensive and easy ways for even the most technologically limited business owners to participate and market to their customers. One of our business owners brought in her laptop and let shoppers register their cards right there so they would be eligible for the rebate,” says Mullen. “I think it encouraged our merchants to plug into Facebook as a marketing tool, which can build a nearly instantaneous bridge to their customers.”

“Participating in this event was so great for us,” says Mullen, “not just because we got more people coming downtown but because we were able to do more. We could add more fun elements to the event. It also helped us reach more people with bigger ads.”

In Cedar Falls, Iowa, the fun began on Small Business Saturday Eve, with a closed Main Street and about 3,500 people dancing in the streets, listening to some great bands and waiting for Santa to arrive. The weather was cold and windy, but the festivities brought out the warmth of the crowd. Santa arrived by locomotive and led the “March Down Main” to the Cedar River where the Main Street Tree was lit and winter fireworks capped the evening. Small Business Saturday bags abounded as a reminder of the next day.

On Saturday, Small Business Saturday launched at Santa’s Workshop. The Mayor read a proclamation, while Santa handed out gifts of AMEX cards and other items, “The stores were packed all day” says MaraBeth Soneson, former director of Cedar Falls Community Main Street. “Merchants wore SBS T-shirts, used the bags, and slapped on ‘I shopped in Cedar Falls Downtown on Small Business Saturday’ stickers, while street characters entertained the pedestrians. A good time was had by all!”

Like Port Townsend, Cedar Falls reaped the benefits of added publicity generated by its Small Business Saturday event. “We were the lead story on the NBC affiliate Saturday evening and the headline for the Sunday newspaper,” says Soneson. “Also, merchants used the Facebook ads, got word out about the $25 credit, and generally worked their networks well.”

Roslindale Village, a Boston Main Streets district, promoted Small Business Saturday at last year’s tree lighting event. “The turnout was one of the strongest that we’ve had for a tree lighting in the 26 years we’ve been doing it,” says Jody Burr, former director of Roslindale Village Main Street. “All of the promotional stuff was really well received. We gave away 500 shopping bags to businesses to distribute, and everyone loved them.”

The Main Street program also distributed raffle boxes to 75 businesses the week before the event. A drawing was then held for 13 winners—10 got AMEX gift cards, and three got Roslindale shopping sprees. “When we ask our business owners what they would like to see the Main Street program offer, they always say they want marketing assistance for their businesses and the district so this event fit in nicely with their needs,” says Burr.

“Small Business Saturday was a great new way to have something that every business participated in,” says Burr. “Depending on the event, we have varying levels of participation among the business community and among shoppers. This event brought us a new level of participants and customer engagement. It was a great way to engage businesses that don’t often engage with us. For example, we have some businesses that cater to the Hispanic market, and their markets don’t really get involved in our activities. But some winners were customers of businesses that were Spanish speaking only—that was wonderful! We took Small Business Saturday as an opportunity to connect with new segments of the community.”

This year’s Small Business Saturday will take place on November 26, 2011, and already Main Street communities are gearing up for it. Cedar Falls, Port Townsend, and Roslindale Village, along with eight other Boston Main Streets districts are all planning to participate again this year. Main Street Bath in Maine is laying plans for its Thanksgiving weekend celebrations, which will combine a Children’s Tree Lighting and Visit with Santa Claus with downtown Bath’s participation in Small Business Saturday on November 26th. And in Michigan, Niles Main Street is planning a Holiday Homing Celebration with Carriage Rides, Lighting of Downtown and the Arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus and will promote Small Business Saturday on its on our Shop Local Christmas Challenge Facebook page.

To download a free toolkit for Small Business Saturday, visit the Small Business Saturday Facebook page.

 SOTW_11-8-11_ShiftYourShoppingLogoShift Your Shopping

With the success of Small Business Saturday, other national “Shop Local” holiday campaigns are taking flight. November 1st marked the launch of the first Shift Your Shopping campaign, representing more than 38,000 locally owned and independent businesses. Shift Your Shopping combines the efforts of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) with more than 150 local business alliances.

Shift Your Shopping encourages residents to exercise their buying power to strengthen their local economies. Americans spend a large portion of their annual retail shopping budget between November 1st and December 31st—about $700 per shopper according to the National Retail Federation. Numerous studies show that if those dollars are shifted to locally owned, independent businesses, they'll generate far more economic benefit in local communities than money spent at local chain outlets or businesses outside the community. For example, a 2008 study of Kent County, Michigan, by Civic Economics projected that shifting 10 percent of the county's per capita spending from chains to locally owned independent businesses would create “almost $140 million in new economic activity and 1,600 new jobs for the region.”

Beyond the economic impacts, however, Shift Your Shopping is also about celebrating the uniqueness of your community. "By shifting the focus of holiday shopping to locally owned, independent businesses,” says AMIBA Director Jennifer Rockne, “we can strengthen our communities and economy, create more jobs, and—equally important—we can enjoy more relaxed and rewarding experiences doing holiday shopping."

Shift Your Shopping extends through December. Visit the Shift Your Shopping resource page for a wide array of resources and information on participating organizations.

 SOTW_11-8-11_PlaidFridayLogoPlaid Friday

And finally, there’s Plaid Friday.  A lighthearted, fun alternative to the "Black Friday" of big-box store fame, Plaid Friday brings back the neighborly nostalgic times when shopping for friends and family was a pleasurable leisurely activity. It is designed to celebrate the diversity and creativity of local and independently owned businesses during the holidays.

So celebrate by wearing plaid while shopping at participating businesses on Friday, November 25th. Look for special plaid placards at local shops. Many of businesses are offering specials during Plaid Friday. Click here to find out more.