It’s hard not to be a little cynical about an event called Small Business Saturday when it’s sponsored by American Express, a company that just reported about $7.7 billion in revenue. As my grandmother used to say to us over hot bread and cocoa, “Those are substantial earnings even stripped from the context of a contentious marketplace for the banking and credit industry.” She is gone now, but her words still whisper on the wind.
Still, the fact that a major corporation that suffers from occasional lapses in judgment is behind the event does not mean Small Business Saturday isn’t worth celebrating. One of the things that a career in marketing teaches you is that, while you’re not wrong to be cynical, you’re probably cynical about the wrong things. Here are a few reasons we think you should celebrate Small Business Saturday.
It began by helping small businesses recover from the recession.
Small Business Saturday began in 2010. Here’s what the Dow Jones Industrial Average looked like around that time:
So 2010 was not destined to be known as the Year of Economic Confidence. Collectively, our economy had just driven off a cliff, and some of the hardest hit were the little guys.
Those small businesses included customers of American Express—customers who the company wanted to sell on new products. So AmEx created a win-win scenario—to sell their products to small businesses, they would help sell small businesses to the public at large.
Not only did their plan work, Small Business Saturday was quickly embraced by cities like Boston and New York as a way to boost local economies and preserve local businesses at a time when the future looked uncertain.
It may be outgrowing American Express.
Although American Express is still a major sponsor, Small Business Saturday may be slipping out of their hands—and that’s a good thing. In 2011, Congress officially recognized Small Business Saturday, and by 2015 there were nearly 1.3 million small businesses participating.
Yet participating businesses don’t actually have to take American Express in their stores. They don’t even have to pay to take part. It’s entirely possible you spend all day shopping on Small Business Saturday without giving AmEx a dime.
The best way to support a local business is to shop with them.
No, but really. You have to pay for things you want in your community.
Want a good comic book shop in your neighborhood? Go buy comics at Hero House. Want a good place to relax by a warm fire with a glass locally distilled gin? Visit Hotel Tango. Small businesses offer you a way to shape your environment by how you choose to spend money. Shopping local this Saturday is a great way to make sure that some of your holiday purchases also help the businesses you love stick around.
Businesses help define a city—or they don’t.
Not too long ago, I went to a conference in Ohio with some of the other writers from Well Done. On our way there we stopped in Columbus for dinner, and quickly found ourselves on the outskirts of the local mall, featuring exactly the stores you might expect. Although I’d never been there before, it all had an eerie familiarity—we might just as well have been driving around outside the Greenwood or Castleton Malls.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the big chains, but they don’t do much for a city’s character, either. The businesses and restaurants that make a place unique are usually the result of the idiosyncratic vision of a few individuals. Neglect those visions for too long and you’re left with the same sorts of cookie-cutter businesses as everyone else.
Looking for a place to shop small this Saturday?
Allow us to suggest our neighborhood.