Come get free cookies, stay and shop | Jobs Reply

This Small Business Saturday, expect free cookies, loyalty rewards and holiday cheer. But maybe not deep discounts.

For small business owners, surviving the past few years of closures, empty stores and supply chain disruptions has been no small feat.

Now there is another monster rearing its head: inflation.

“Our costs have skyrocketed,” said Tina Miller, owner of Walkabout Outfitter, a family-owned outdoor gear chain in Virginia.

That pays more, Miller said, but he also expects his inventory costs to rise significantly.

Also, Miller feels pressure to keep his prices low. He says that its sales have dropped compared to last year.

Miller hopes to see things go well this weekend, on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. But he is worried.

“Are people going to catch on? Are they going to just want small things? I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Miller said.

“I try to be very optimistic.”

Small Business Saturday: An origin story

Small Business Saturday is a new concept. It was started in 2010 by American Express, as a way to bring attention and customers to small businesses after the financial collapse of 2008 and 2009.

About $0.68 of every dollar spent on small businesses stays in the local community, according to a report from American Express.

And in 2011, the Senate passed a resolution recognizing the day, encouraging people to buy land.

Free cookies in lieu of sales

With rising costs and razor thin profit margins, many small businesses just can’t afford the huge markdowns and board sales put on by big retailers this weekend, so they’re using other things to attract shoppers.

NPR has been tracking the state of several small businesses since the pandemic began, and we reached out to three to see what they’re expecting this shopping season.

Miller, owner of Walkabout Outfitter, almost disappeared in 2020. To survive, he launched an online store.

Most of his customers, mostly women in their 40s and 50s, now prefer to shop online, Miller said, but his brick-and-mortar stores are still important to his business.

Miller hopes the first-hand experience will draw customers to his store this weekend, because he doesn’t plan to sell much.

Advantages of shopping IRL? Free cookies and coffee.

Miller said what makes this weekend special isn’t the prices, though, it’s the atmosphere.

“I’m seeing all the people I haven’t seen all year,” Miller said. “It’s usually bustling and fun and people are happy.”

Giving in the holiday spirit

Juby George started Smell the Curry – an Indian restaurant and catering company – last December, after being a programmer for more than 20 years.

Inflation has driven up the price of ingredients – everything from meat to vegetables is now more expensive. But George is not willing to pass that burden on to his clients. Instead, he tries to rearrange the menu to keep the prices constant.

George is offering discounted food to those in need this holiday season. He also donates leftover food to a local organization. “Nothing will go to waste for me,” said George.

Calculating reliability

Patti Riordan owns the Smoke Stack Hobby Shop in Lancaster, Ohio, which sells model trains and building materials.

He’s doing what he always does on Small Business Saturday: Riordan has a loyalty program for his customers, and he’ll double those rewards if they shop this weekend.

Riordan was excited to show off the new train collection, which her store acquired after a story about the store aired on NPR in August.

Sales at The Smoke Stack have dropped in recent months. But Riordan is optimistic about this weekend. See it as an indication of what sales will look like for the rest of the year.

“If it’s really strong, that, to me, means the next four weeks are going to be strong. If it’s mild, we’ll be putting our thinking caps on.” [Copyright 2022 NPR]

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