Since its founding in 2010, Small Business Saturday has become an American institution. Falling on the Saturday after Thanksgiving – this year it’s November 26 – the day has been embraced by shoppers, small businesses, and neighborhoods nation-wide. Even the President shops locally on Small Business Saturday.
Last year, 95 million shoppers spent a whopping $16.2 billion in small and local retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday. That’s a great deal of money ringing up in small business’ cash registers. Perhaps as importantly, that’s a lot of people rediscovering the vitality of their local neighborhood shopping districts.
It’s no wonder, then, that through the “Neighborhood Champion” program, local civic and business organizations have become a driving force of the Small Business Saturday movement.
“The Neighborhood Champion program started about four years ago,” explained Amy Marino, Vice President of Small Business Saturday at American Express, the founding partner of Small Business Saturday.
“Last year we had more than 4100 Neighborhood Champions participate in the day and get small businesses in their community excited and engaged,” said Marino. “They reached over 1.3 million small businesses in all 50 states.” Things should be even bigger this November 26. “We’ve already surpassed that number this year.”
Any neighborhood group – in fact, any individual business – can become a “Neighborhood Champion” and help rally local businesses and plan events. In most cases, these are the local organizations long serving an area: Chambers of Commerce, Main Street organizations, Small Business Development Centers, Business Improvement Districts and the like.
In October, American Express conducted “Small Business Saturday Boot Camps” in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco to help neighborhood champions in these cities gear up and get to know one another better. I was fortunate to participate in these boot camps and see the energy, commitment, and creativity of these community small business leaders.
The city of Chicago may be leading the way. For the last few years, individual Chicago neighborhoods have planned and executed exciting activities for the day. But this year, the city of Chicago is launching a more ambitious campaign with its “Holiday Neighborhood Rewards Program.”
“This is our first city-wide program,” said Roxanne Nava, Chief Small Business Officer of the City of Chicago. Through Chicago’s Neighborhood Rewards Program, shoppers who spend a total of $300 or more in three or more local businesses in any Chicago retail shopping district from November 26 through December 24 can receive a $50 gift card to use in a participating Small Business Saturday merchant.
“We’ve had different parts of the city participate in Small Business Saturday for a number of years, but this gave us a cohesive effort to incentivize and reward people for shopping in local Chicago neighborhoods,” said Nava. “Through Local First Chicago, in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office, City Treasury, City of Chicago Small Business Center, Women Impacting Public Policy, and American Express, we’re able to promote the event on a city-wide level.”
Many Chicago neighborhoods are planning special events for the day – tree lightings, ice sculptures, children’s activities, ‘passports’ to encourage shoppers to go to many stores. A few neighborhoods groups offer free shuttles to take shoppers between local neighborhoods.
“Through this city-wide effort, we’re able to promote (small businesses) through the Small Business Saturday national platform and help underwrite some of the advertising and social media for local campaigns,” said Nava.
There’s a whole array of resources to help Neighborhood Champions make Small Business Saturday a success and continue driving awareness of local businesses throughout the year.
“Once an individual or organization signs up as a Neighborhood Champion, they’ll receive merchandise kits from American Express,” said Marino, “to help them engage, excite, and outfit small businesses.”
These resources include promotional items like tote bags, balloons, window stickers, and buttons to help shoppers identify stores that are participating in the event.
This year, American Express has also launched a “Shop Small Studio” where individual small businesses can create customized marketing materials, including event posters and flyers, website badges and social media messages and assets.
“Small Business Saturday is a great day of eating, shopping, and dining in every part of the city,” said Nava.
Organizations, small businesses, and individuals can find out more about the Neighborhood Champion program and the Shop Small Studio at www.ShopSmall.com.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2016
This article originally ran in USA Today on November 3, 2016