Amid the chirping, twittering and fluttering, The Bird Shop in Sacramento has all the sounds of a bustling holiday season. From her perch amid dozens of chattering parrots, parakeets, cockatiels and canaries, third-generation owner Tiffany Latino is counting on strong sales in the weeks ahead.
And there’s one day she’s particularly zeroed in on: this weekend’s Small Business Saturday, a nationwide event to encourage holiday shoppers to spend some dollars at local, independent businesses.
With fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, small businesses say they need the holidays – and the attention focused on Nov. 30 – to go out big.
At The Bird Shop, it could signal that things are perking up for good. Having survived a discouraging droop in sales during the recession, “this year has been better than last year, so it’s our third year of creeping back up,” said Latino, whose shop has been family-owned for nearly 35 years.
“I’ll be happy to finish out the year in a big way,” she said, a red-headed parrot nibbling on a lock of her hair.
The country’s 23 million small businesses account for about 54 percent of all U.S . retail sales, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. But with unemployment still stubborn and consumer confidence wobbly, many are nervous.
“With good reason. Your average bookstore owner, restaurateur or auto-shop owner has a lot of concerns and frustrations with the economy,” said John Kabateck, California director of the National Federation of Independent Business, based in Sacramento. “That’s why ‘shopping small’ is a big deal in an uncertain economy.”
Now in its fourth year, Small Business Saturday appears cemented in place as a reminder to consumers to “shop local” not only during the holidays, but year round. It’s been recognized by Congress, endorsed by the SBA and supported by American Express and the NFIB.
At The Bird Shop on Auburn Boulevard, Latino said the day is a way to thank loyal customers and attract new ones. “We’ll probably get an extra 30-40 people that day,” said Latino, who plans to offer sale prices on wrought-iron birdcages, “deep discounts” on bird toys, treats and seeds, and $5 off $30 purchases.
To get the word out on Small Business Saturday, she and her 10 employees are sending emails, handing out fliers and posting reminders on the shop’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
About 70 percent of small-business owners – those with fewer than 100 employees – say the Saturday event helps draw customers, according to a recent joint survey by the NFIB and American Express. And 18 percent – double the proportion in 2012 – plan to advertise their participation on radio, TV or in newspapers.
In midtown Sacramento, the holiday shopping season is crucial for many of the 400 to 500 small businesses, said Emily Baime Michaels, executive director of the Midtown Business Association, which encompasses the urban blocks from 16th Street to Alhambra Boulevard. “Many of our retailers see 50 percent of their annual revenues in December, so it’s really critical that we get shoppers to support these local businesses,” she said.
On Small Business Saturday, some midtown shops are throwing out the welcome mat to shoppers with special events and discounts. Denim Spot on 20th Street is hosting a trunk show and appearance by “Project Runway” fashion contestant Richard Hallmarq. Fleet Feet Sports store is offering free gift wrapping and discounts on some apparel and electronics, while its neighboring women’s clothing shop is offering gifts with purchases, while they last.
Unlike other communities with big-box and chain stores that can harness large advertising budgets to attract shoppers, local venues are mostly on their own. Easily “99 percent of our businesses are locally owned and very mom-and-pop stores,” said Baime Michaels. “If (consumers) want to keep that midtown charm, it’s important they vote with their dollars and shop locally.”
Nationwide, mom-and-pop stores can get plenty of help from Small Business Saturday sponsors to get the word out. There are free templates of emails and Facebook posts to send customers. FedEx will print two free copies of a company’s Small Business Saturday poster. Twitter will provide $100 in free advertising credits to the first 10,000 new business users who open Twitter accounts.
And for shoppers, those who use their American Express card this Saturday to buy at least $10 of merchandise from a qualifying local retailer can get a free $10 credit on their next bill.
Elsewhere, some local communities are hosting their own version of shop-local events. In Elk Grove, shoppers who visit participating stores and businesses through Dec. 15 can enter multiple entries for the “Holiday Shop Elk Grove” raffle drawing, with prizes ranging from $50 in merchandise to $2,000 in cash.
“If we can keep people shopping here, we can keep tax dollars local and grow jobs,” said Angela Perry, president and CEO of the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce.
For the last 20 years, Perry said, Elk Grove has hosted some kind of buy-local event, but it’s gained more momentum recently, adding five to 10 participating merchants a year, from jewelers to dance studios and even the local parks and recreation district. In 2012, more than 90 retailers participated and “we’re shooting for 100” this year, Perry said.
Does Small Business Saturday really work? “The numbers speak for themselves,” said Kabateck, director of California’s NFIB, who said consumers spent an estimated $5.5 billion nationwide on Small Business Saturday last year.
“It’s a gift of hope that small-business owners desperately need. It’s proving to be more and more effective in restoring hope … and in reminding consumers to shop local throughout the year.”
At The Bird Shop, the holidays could be a barometer of what’s ahead, says Latino. “We’re kind of clawing our way back … I just hope it continues into January and February.”
Call The Bee’s Claudia Buck, (916) 321-1968. Read her Personal Finance blog, www.sacbee.com/personalfinanceblog.