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Small Business Saturday movement slow to catch on

Any added sales are a bonus, some businesses say
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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In its third year of trying to drive holiday shoppers to go local, Small Business Saturday is still struggling to gain momentum, according to some Auburn area stores.

Marilyn Welz, whose Fashion-a-tions store has been a Downtown Auburn staple for 35 years, said like any promotion, it takes time to be effective. Welz said the small business community and its associations need to join together for it to make progress.

“We haven’t capitalized on it,” she said. “(Stores are) just kind of hoping people will come, but we haven’t as a community gone out to them. We’ve just hoped that the people will hear (about it) and come to us.”

American Express started the initiative and it encourages cardholders, who have registered in advance online, to use their card at a participating business and receive a $25 rebate paid for by the credit card company for a purchase of at least $25.

Welz joined other area businesses in displaying a blue welcome mat that says “Shop Small, welcome to Small Business Saturday” outside its entrance, hoping to encourage consumers to take advantage of the event.

But had she not known about it from previous years, she would have been in the dark, she said.

“I think it’s a good deal, and maybe we could get on the bandwagon sooner next year to let more people know about it,” Welz said.

Two days before Small Business Saturday, she had been contacted by American Express to find out if she was a qualifying business. A day later, she received a letter from them about the event.

“Not a lot of warning,” Welz said.

A check of her store’s sales receipts from that Saturday showed five American Express transactions out of 17 total charges, compared to none the day before on Black Friday, when she had similar sales numbers, she said.

Compared to the same Saturday last year, Welz said her sales volume declined.

“My prices were cheaper,” this year, she said. “So it could be more people were just buying the least expensive item, so I don’t know.”

Liz Briggs, treasurer of Think First Auburn, said the organization did not actively promote Small Business Saturday and instead focused on its own holiday advertising campaign.

Briggs said she believed the Downtown Business Association and Old Town Business Association should be responsible for raising awareness of the day, and then Think Auburn First can join in the effort.

“It’s a great concept, I just think it’s slow getting started,” Briggs said.

Messages left with officials of the Downtown Business Association and Old Town Business Association for this story were not returned Monday.

Other stores on Lincoln Way reported mixed results.

Book Haven owner Shelle Parsons said several of her customers told her “Happy Small Business Saturday.”

“I would not think that Small Business Saturday itself had a large impact on any individual business, but I would imagine even if 5 percent of your sales are because of it, it is still nice for all small businesses,” Parsons said.

Over at Footpaths, who distributed several of the blue welcome mats to businesses including Fashion-a-tions, sales associate June Harkins said although it was a “very good” day, there was no indication it was due to the event.

In Old Town, Linda Robinson said her Sun River Clothing Co. store did not sign up for Small Business Saturday or promote it, but she added that there were thousands of people on the district’s streets this weekend.

Robinson said she had been preoccupied with other store matters.

“I thought I might automatically be a part of it,” Robinson said, “just because it’s happening.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews