Did Small Business Saturday really help locally owned stores?
The consensus about the third annual Small Business Saturday among local business owners and clerks in the Charleston area was that it was just another holiday shopping day.
And while all agree that efforts to steer customers away from big-box retailers and the Internet to locally owned stores are worthy, some think Small Business Saturday is a marketing ploy by its creator, American Express, to look good and bridge the spending gap between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
“Lowcountry Local First is 3,000 times more effective in helping small, local businesses in Charleston than American Express,” said Christine DeCrocker of the mom-and-pop AccuPhotoLab & Studio on Savannah Highway.
She said American Express is the most expensive credit card company for businesses and the most difficult to deal with.
A few blocks away at the Charleston Bicycle Co., which had a sign promoting a Small Business Saturday sale, manager Brian Parks described Saturday as “dead.”
“Everybody must be buying electronics and not things that help you lead a healthier life,” said Parks, noting that Black Friday was a busier shopping day.
Irv Batten of On The Run running store in Mount Pleasant had only two customers come in during the first hour and a half of business Saturday, but it didn’t seem to bother him because big-box retailers and the Internet can’t compete with personalized expertise of locally owned athletic stores.
“The regulars (customers) will always be regulars,” said Batten, noting that new customers come to him often after buying a poorly fitted pair of running shoes from major retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Daniel Russell-Einhorn, co-owner of Affordabike Bicycle Shop on King Street, also thinks Small Business Saturday is a marketing ploy and, like DeCrocker and Batten, chalks up the success of the shop to strong local support year-round.
He adds that the opposite of what happens at Best Buy — where people look at items and then buy online — happens at his store. People look at bikes online and then come to his store to buy.
“I don’t have a problem with people buying based on price, convenience or locally. If local is not your best option, then the local business owners haven’t done their job right,” said Russell-Einhorn, who along with his business partner started a locally based bike brand, Bilda Bike, and plan to start offering local versions of popular national bike styles under the brand, Coast Cycles, next year.
A few said Small Business Saturday did have some effect.
Though Black Friday was busier at Wabi Sabi Home on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, sales associates Emmie Larsen and Saskia Munn said some customers came in noting they were supporting Small Business Saturday. They added locals support Wabi Sabi, which tries to offer products that are made in the United States, or are eco-friendly, or by female-owned businesses.
Next door at Half-Moon Outfitters, sales associate Megan McGandy also said Black Friday was busier, but that — despite a national advertising campaign by American Express — word about Small Business Saturday still isn’t getting out.
Avis Grant of North Charleston didn’t know. She took her granddaughters, Tayla and Tionna, to a new toy store on upper King Street, Magnifilous Toy Emporium, where they played with an array of innovative toys. Grant said she still considers price the No. 1 factor in where she shops for Christmas.
Also in the store was architect Patrick Head, who was aware of Small Business Saturday and signed up for American Express’ $25 rebate for shopping local. Like many, Head tries to buy local as much as he can.