A guest blog post from an experienced retailer, Katie Kapro

What do you feel when you hear the words “Black Friday?”

I feel a tightness in my chest. My breath becomes shallow. I inadvertently start clenching my teeth. For real.  

Black Friday has been a bane to small business retailers for years. At best, customers have unrealistic expectations – “Sorry ma’am, we just can’t give you 85% off that sweater. Even if that’s what the big-box stores are doing.” At worst, small businesses become the ghost towns of the Black Friday gold rush.

Enter Small Business Saturday.

SBS was established in 2010 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The event intended to serve as an alternative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two big-box American shopping holidays observed just after Thanksgiving. The first event was promoted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express. (My theory is that AmEx recognized how difficult their high merchant fees were for small business owners, and supporting locally-owned shops with a special holiday was their way of avoiding a PR nightmare and assuaging their guilt by supporting local economies.) End rant.

Note: retailers do not need to accept American Express in order to participate in Small Business Saturday. Nonetheless, some customers might assume that you do accept AmEx, so it’s not a bad idea to post a sign clarifying the issue.

In 2011 the Senate made the shopping holiday official, and by 2015 95 million consumers participated in Small Business Saturday. It has been a blast of energy into sometimes-struggling local retail shops.

Here are some useful tips to help retailers prepare for Small Business Saturday!

Get Ahead in the Promotion Game

The 2-3 weeks before Thanksgiving is the best time to get your marketing and promotion all lined up. It’s the best time to utilize social media to get the word out about your business’s participation in SBS, educate your customers about the importance of shopping local, and advertise any related sales or promotions you’ll be offering.

  • Update Facebook page with correct hours, address, cover image, etc.
  • Schedule Facebook posts to publish at intervals until SBS
  • Consider setting up a Facebook Offer for the event
  • Tweet about your participation in Small Business Saturday – some of the most popular hastags are  #SmallBusinessSaturday #SmallBizSaturday #SmallBizSat #ShopSmall #GoLocal, #ShopLocal, #SupportLocal #BuyLocal.
  • Make a Small Business Saturday Pinterest board

Finally, to fully immerse yourself in the Small Business Saturday experience, promote your business with all of the customizable materials offered by organizers. These include storefront signs, profile pictures, email headers, and more.

Stock Up (Don’t be the coffee guy!)

Merchandise shortage is a real thing. No matter how much effort you put into promoting an event, if you run out of your customers’ favorite items it’s not going to do you much good.

Remember the story of Death Wish Coffee, the little company that hit it big, got a spot on Good Morning America, and then totally tanked because they couldn’t keep up with the demand? This stuff happens all the time. There are costs to growing a business. As retailers jumping into the ocean of a nationwide shopping event, we must be prepared to keep up with the growth, whether it’s for one day, the month, or for the foreseeable future (which we all hope it will!).

So don’t be stingy with your merchandise ordering for SBS. It is the lead-in to the holidays after all, and in theory whatever doesn’t move on Saturday will sell over the subsequent month.

Update and Dust-Off Your POS

Last holiday season, the outdated Point of Sale machine at my shop bricked for an entire day. It was a nightmare. We had two long lines of customers, holding armloads of merchandise, weaving between racks and shelves all the way from the register to the wall. Meanwhile, as one does, we tried our best to stay calm and meticulously handwrite receipts and copy down credit card information. Not. Fun.

If you’re working with an outdated POS system, now is the time to move it into the modern era.

With innovations from companies like Square, retail POS technologies are more streamlined than ever. I’m talking apps, iPads, NFC … the whole nine yards. When our system crashed last year, my attempts to fix it led to the discovery that our POS was so old it was written on a floppy disk. (A floppy disk! Would the younger generation even recognize that archaic instrument? The answer, it turns out, is no.)

You can imagine the excitement when we traded in those floppies for iPad registers. I only wish we had done it earlier.

Once retailers are able to relinquish their grasp on their outdated systems, the benefits and ease of iPad registers, emailed receipts, and inventory tracking can be life-changing. They have been for me at least. Farewell overly complex POS. I will miss your random “gas pump tracking” feature.

There is no better time than the present to enhance one’s business efficiency. The more efficient you are, the more fun you’ll have with Small Business Saturday!

The shop local movement is gaining steam. It is our responsibility as retailers to not allow it to fizzle out. We want to remind our customers that shopping local, breathing life into our communities, is not a fad. It is a way of life.

We can do this by putting ourselves out there through our participation in SBS events and promotion, by preparing our stock to support customer’s buying desires, and by staying up to date with technologies that will make shopping a fun, easy experience. On Small Business Saturday, we can remind our customers why they shop local. Because they get quality products. Because it’s fun. And because the world needs it.

About the Author

Katie Kapro Headshot

Katie Kapro holds her MFA in nonfiction writing. She has worked in locally-owned businesses – from apple orchard to bead store to clothing boutique – her entire career. You can follow her on Twitter @kapro101