Shop Small® is the year-round movement that American Express has undertaken to expand Small Business Saturday into a way “to celebrate small businesses every day and to help communities thrive and stay vibrant.” They have created a number of programs to let customers know that locally owned shops are open and eager for business. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are abandoning their signature event, Small Business Saturday.

According to American Express, consumers have reported spending nearly $140 billion across all 11 Small Business Saturdays since its inception in 2010. Many of us remember receiving generous boxes of swag to help our shop promote SBS: doormats, tote bags, balloons, vinyl banners, and even doggie bandanas.  Both last year and this year the distribution of merchandise kits with promotional items has concentrated on “Neighborhood Champions” such as business districts, Chambers of Commerce, Main Street America, and other organizations.  Your community group can apply using this link.

The Monroe Street Merchants Association has been a Neighborhood Champion for several years, and the stated mission of Small Business Saturday is close to our own goals: to rally small businesses in our area and encourage them to promote together, and to connect shoppers to local businesses. We are free to do use the totes, stickers and posters we receive in any way we want, and to include shops that don’t take American Express. The only exception to this is the Shop Small Map, an online feature that only includes Amex-accepting merchants.

There are many ways you can use the occasion of Small Business Saturday to draw customers to your store on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, including special events such as book signings and trunk shows; discounts on certain products; and giveaways.  If you want to promote your entire district, consider rewarding customers who visit three or more participating shops with a chance to enter a drawing.  We often ask Monroe Street businesses to contribute gift cards, and put one or more in each Shop Small tote bag as a prize.

In addition to the promotion of Small Business Saturday, American Express has a new Shop Small® initiative called Always Welcome which has the stated intention of creating a community that welcomes, uplifts and supports everyone who come through the doors.  They’ve partnered with women artists Shawna X, Reyna Noriega and Mariell to create signage “that brings their unique perspective on inclusivity and community.” The images are available as window clings and downloadable files to shops accepting American Express.  More information about this program can be found on their merchant services site.

These materials, as well as many of those for Small Business Saturday, do feature the American Express logo prominently.  But I don’t begrudge them taking credit for helping us promote the idea of shopping local — and of being inclusive in welcoming all customers.

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder