April 17, 2014

Small Business Saturday about Main Street

Dan Murray
Guest columnist
You know about Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when people line up outside the big department stores and discount stores in the middle of the night to buy cheap Christmas presents. Black Friday is a big day for retailers, but I don’t think it’s nearly as important as Small Business Saturday.
That’s because small business is the heart and soul of our economy.
Small Business Saturday is about Main Street, not Wall Street. It’s about the entrepreneurs and families who have put everything into stores that offer what the chains and e-commerce companies don’t – something different, something special, from handcrafted gifts to genuinely friendly service.
It’s also about supporting the local economy. The chain stores are owned by big corporations based someplace else, but small businesses are usually owned by people who live in the community. When you shop at a small business, you’re supporting your hometown, your neighborhood, and your neighbors.
The media tends to focus on the Fortune 500 brands everyone knows, but small businesses represent 99 percent of U.S. employers, and they employ about half of the nation’s private-sector workforce, according to the latest figures from the federal government.
We can’t have a strong economy unless our small businesses are doing well – and right now they’re not doing well. They’re hurting.
According to the National Federation of Independent Business’ latest Small-Business Optimism Index, the outlook among small-business owners is still wary. The survey, conducted before the presidential election, found that weak sales are still the No. 1 issue facing small-business owners.
The truth is that small businesses aren’t going to hire new employees if they’re worried about keeping the lights on. They aren’t going to expand or add locations if they’re worried about the cost of new regulations coming out of Washington.
Small Business Saturday, then, is a good opportunity for people to support the establishments that mean so much to America’s economic wellbeing.
According to the inaugural Small Business Saturday Insights Survey, released Nov. 8 by NFIB and American Express, nearly half of all independent merchants plan to incorporate Small Business Saturday into their holiday marketing plans, while 67 percent plan to offer special discounts on Saturday, Nov. 24.
Small businesses generally offer better service than you’ll find at the chain stores. Small-business owners and their employees know their merchandise and understand their customers. When you shop at a small business, there’s a good chance you’ll be dealing directly with the owner, not some random teenager who’s there for the employee discount and couldn’t care less whether you shop there again.
Small-business owners and their employees will do everything they can to keep you satisfied because their livelihoods depend on you coming back.
Then there’s the traffic. Shopping-mall parking lots can be ugly this time of year, but small businesses are usually in neighborhoods with smaller crowds and better parking, and that can go a long way toward making your day merry and bright.
But beyond all this, there’s the value that small businesses bring to the community.
Small businesses are usually owned by people who have a vested interest in the community, in its schools, in the quality of life. It’s no accident that small- business owners are among the most generous supporters of civic groups, local charities, youth sports, schools and virtually every other form of community activity.
That’s why I urge you to support Small Business Saturday – and to shop at small, independent businesses other day of the year, too.
Dan Murray is the Kansas state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, the state’s leading small-business association. He lives in Topeka and can be reached at dan.murray@NFIB.org.

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