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How to jump-start your Small Business Saturday

What special retail event comes between Black Friday and Cyber Monday? If you guessed “Small Business Saturday (SBS),” then go to the head of the class; bonus points if you already have an SBS plan in place. If you don’t know what I’m talking about (or don’t know where to begin) then read on; we’ll explore how to make Small Business Saturday one of your most successful annual promotions.

What is Small Business Saturday?

For those unfamiliar with the event, in the past eight years the American Express-sponsored shopping “holiday” has grown from a small promotion for AmEx merchants into a national “shop local” movement. Although retailers reported a downturn in 2017 SBS holiday sales ($12.9 billion) vs. 2016 sales ($15 billion), antique and collectible dealers appear to have fared better than the average retailer.

Why would SBS work better for antique dealers than for retailers in general? Because antique dealers and other “Mom and Pop” retailers are the backbone of the Shop Local Movement. Such shops are found on Main Streets and downtown areas across America, where there are no big-box stores, heavy traffic, and pushy holiday crowds. The shops are staffed by friends and neighbors. Relationships are built in such stores. Consumer goods retailing is all about price; collectibles retailing is about nostalgia. A gift from a department store, no matter how well-thought-out, can never have the same emotional impact as a carefully curated and considered collectible. This aspect gives antique dealers a holiday sales advantage over big-box and consumer-goods stores. All that’s lacking for a booming antique-sales season is more customers, and a Small Business Saturday promotion, properly executed, can bring in more customers.

Small Business Saturday isn’t a one-off, flash-in-the pan promotion, though. Dealers who have run successful SBS events are quick to point out that the campaign isn’t about just one day; it’s about building awareness and your customer base. As Karen Hester of Bristol, Virginia’s Cranberry Lane gift shop told the Bristol Herald-Courier: “Small Business Saturday is a banner day for us ... it’s the busiest day of the entire year ... These folks coming in and shopping with us today help us keep our doors open.” []

Plan for Small Business Saturday

Like any successful promotion, SBS requires some lead time. Now is the time to get started; the holiday selling season is only about four months away. So, let’s get to it. What do you need to jumpstart your Small Business Saturday? The following tips are a good place to start. If tackling all of these interferes with running your business, consider appointing an AmEX SBS Neighborhood Champion to spearhead your group’s effort. (Details at

Download the free promotional materials provided by American Express [] and browse through the AmEx website for ideas.

SBS action points

Spread the word. SBS is a team effort; more merchant participants result in more customers. Retail analysts can predict how many customers may visit a store by using a tool called the Huff Gravity Model [] which employs a theory called distance decay. Distance decay dictates that as the distance between two locales increases, the amount of activity between them decreases. Conversely, traffic increases between closely grouped stores. It’s a matter of gravity; when many merchants in an area participate in Small Business Saturday, customers feel drawn to the area because there is more “choice.” Does that mean a solo dealer along a rural road can’t do SBS? No, but it will certainly be more difficult.

Contact your local Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration SCORE office, or local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). They may already know of SBS activities being planned for your area. It’s easier to plug in to an existing effort than to start from scratch.

Pool advertising dollars. Once you have a core group of merchants assembled, you will be able to negotiate discounts with media sellers. Print advertising is sold by the number of insertions and the column-inch size of the ads. It is cheaper per impression to buy more space and run an ad more frequently, splitting the cost between participating merchants.

Expand your social media reach. Facebook has an SBS resource page that can help you create effective ads targeted directly to your followers and local shoppers [https ://]. Six weeks before the event, update your website and social media pages to reflect the promotion.

Don't be shy - Create a Small Business Saturday video

Create an SBS promotional video. Don’t panic; these days, creating quality videos is easy with online software such as Animoto [http ://]. (There are a half-dozen such video creation sites that are easy and affordable.) Video creation is as easy as 1-2-3: choose a template, drop in your photos and text, choose copyright-free music, and it’s done. Videos get most of the traffic on social media, and you may find that a small investment in a video is your best advertising spend. You can create a video for your business alone or split the cost with other merchants and create a video for your shopping district. Here are a few samples that might provide you with some inspiration:

Prepare your store; clean and polish and beef up your signage. Consider extending your hours for the Saturday sale. Don’t try to compete with Big Box retailers by offering deep discounts; keep your margins where they need to be. Remember: You’re not competing on price, you’re offering unique goods.

When Small Business Saturday arrives

Give something away. Hold a “guess how many coins in the bottle,” “guess what this antique is,” or “guess the age of this antique” sort of contest. This will enable you to collect names and email addresses to add to your mailing list.

Sell gift cards and/or gift certificates. Some shoppers may like the idea of buying a collectible as a gift but are unsure what to buy. Offering gift cards will ring up a sale and generate two new customers for each card sold.

Some retailers have been running the Small Business Saturday promotion for years and are good sources of advice about how to get the most “bang for the buck.” You can access the experience of these dealers by visiting one of the SBS open forums; just search the keywords “Small Business Saturday Forum” or visit the forum created by American Express at

Good selling!