Small business retail Saturday gaining traction, still shadowed by mega Black Friday

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Evelyn Knuckles won’t try to match the dramatic sales or the long hours of the big box stores for Black Friday.

Knuckles, the owner of the Evey K Boutique in the Lowry Town Center, will focus instead on the day after one of the biggest consumer holidays of the year. As a small business owner, Knuckles is all about a much newer consumer campaign. Small Business Saturday may not carry the same kind of buzz as Black Friday, but she says the event is a much better fit.

“We are more specialized. We sell specialty items like jewelry pieces, scarves, candles, gloves, purses and jeans,” Knuckles said. “Everybody obviously goes to the mall to try to get the bargains. It’s harder to get our clients to come support us on Black Friday.”

Credit card company American Express kicked off the Small Business Saturday campaign in 2010 as an alternative for business owners like Knuckles. Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the shopping holiday encourages consumers to focus on neighborhood businesses. In the past four years, American Express has pushed the event through national advertising, and the company has offered special deals for merchants and cardholders alike.

“It’s really brought to the forefront the importance of shopping small,” said Patricia Norins, a spokeswoman for Small Business Saturday and an advisor to American Express. “I think folks in communities are recognizing that if they want small businesses to be here for the long term, they have to go out and support them.”

Norins said the response from businesses and consumers has grown steadily since 2010. According to a survey published by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express released last November, U.S. consumers spent $5.5 billion at small businesses during last year’s event. Norins said those dollars came with an increased awareness about the consumer holiday; according to the survey, about 100 million consumers “shopped small” and awareness of the holiday rose to 65 percent.

“Small Business Saturday has helped to level the playing field,” Norins said. “There’s plenty of room for consumers to go out and shop small.”

While any business owners can take part in the holiday, the credit card company offers specific promotions for its members, including online lists of merchants and benefits for shoppers. As an American Express merchant, for example, Knuckles will be listed on the official website. Knuckles started participating in the program three years ago, and she said the free posters and signs from American Express have helped awareness and rebates for cardholders have also helped spread the word.

“Last year was better than the year before, I think because of all the advertising that the community does,” Knuckles said. “I think now it’s starting to be more purposeful, compared to the past couple of years.”

The impact of the event has gone deeper than official American Express merchants. Jared Oz, the manager of Leta’s Loot on Consignment Row in Aurora, said he’s seen more and more customers respond to the event since the business opened five years ago.

“We can’t compete with the bigger stores. It helps us help our customers and possibly convince some people from small businesses,” Oz said. “The people that are going to go to Target, we can’t pull them away, but we may convince some people to make us one of their stops.”

Still, the event has a long way to go in competing with the buzz of Black Friday. This year, the shopping holiday inspired themed episodes of “South Park” and spurred U2 to release a new song just in time for Nov. 29. Even though Small Business Saturday has yet to find the same kind of impact in pop culture, Knuckles hopes it’ll have an impact, along with all of the other pushes she’ll make in December.

“Throughout the holiday season, we try to do tent shows with food and champagne. We do free wrapping, we deliver, we do that customer service piece that you won’t get at the mall,” she said. “I try to get that out as much as I can in the month of December.”

Small Business Saturday may not yet have inspired a “South Park” episode, but Knuckles is hopeful that the young consumer campaign will make all of those efforts even more effective.

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at 720-449-9707 or [email protected]