Commentary

#ShopSmall Keeps Getting Bigger

American Express’ Small Business Saturday returns Nov. 26 for its seventh iteration. I’ve watched the #ShopSmall movement grow with the same sense of appreciation we all feel when a much-needed store or service opens in our neighborhoods, like the bike shop where you can get that flat fixed without having to jam it into the car. Or the coffee shop where the proprietor not only knows your name but also exactly how much milk you want in your chai latte.

The reality, though, is that we’re all increasingly enticed by the ease of finding what we need, and liking what we find through social media and searches. So even if the local antiques store isn’t inclined to sell its armoires online, it’s imperative for it to create a social media presence.

To that end, AmEx this year launched Small Shop Studio, which allows small businesses to create and download customizable print and digital marketing assets to promote their businesses. There is no cost and you do not have to accept the American Express card to participate. Among the digital offerings are Web site badges, Facebook and Twitter cover photos and copy for promotional emails.

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More than 95 million people took part in Small Business Saturday last year and spent about $16.2 billion, about a 14% percent bump from the year before, according to a survey of consumers by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and AmEx. President Obama and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, were among the participants.

There were more than 241,000 posts using Small Business Saturday- and Shop Small-related hashtags on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter last November. Its Facebook page is up to nearly 3.5 million likes.

The Small Shop Studio site also hosts a “SBS 101” section with how-to articles and profiles such as photographer Paul Octavious’ tips on the art of capturing events in photographs, along with a profile of a Philadelphia-based fine-art glass business run by Katie and Bernard Katz.

Although they sell to customers worldwide via their Web site, and their social media reach is correspondingly global, [Katie] Katz says that their business is now growing from local customers looking for area businesses to support,” writes Phaedra Hise.

Conversely, although it sells a wide range of products ranging from cleaning products to retro landline telephones on the Web, local customers have been the heart and soul of Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store since in opened in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, in 2007.

“I love the edited but ‘uneditedness’ of a general store,” says proprietor Ann Cantrell, who doubled the size of the shop when she moved to Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood three years ago.

Cantrell, who also teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology, uses Small Business Saturday as a way to get the word out about how shopping in the community, rather than at a chain store or on the online behemoths, keeps money in the neighborhood in the form of salaries and taxes. At the same time, Annie’s has been selling goods online since 2008 and Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have become vital to her marketing.

“I love that #ShopSmall is used all year round, and I've also seen #ShopSmallNotTheMall, which make me smile,” she says. “I think when you are on social media and you get that connection to ‘well, hey, there's really an Annie,’ and there's really a whole team behind this. It makes people connect to the bigger picture — not just buying presents but supporting a local business.” And in Cantrell’s case, she supports local makers such as Brooklyn Owl, which makes unicorn horns, in turn.

Cantrell is also a big fan of the kits American Express distributes, which includes store banners, shopping bags and even dog bandanas. “We use a lot of AmEx swag to promote both from a social media perspective as well as in the store,” she says.

And sometimes there’s crossover.

“Last year one of our customers got one of the dog bandanas and took a picture of their dog in front of our store and tagged us. The whole Instagram account is from the dog's point of view and it was saying something like ‘can't wait to go shopping at Annie's,’” Cantrell recalls. “That really speaks to the sense of community that we're trying to promote.”

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