In cities around the country there is a major promotion to encourage people to buy from local retailers and businesses. The buzz in commercials and other media outlets is all about “shopping small.”  Small Business Saturday was founded in 2010 by American Express and now has the support of a number of major partners.  It is celebrated every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving which this year is November 30th.

There is no doubt that small business today gets lots of attention.  I can’t count how many times I have heard people from all walks of life say that small business is “the engine” that will help us turn the economy around by creating jobs and developing innovative products and services.  And, promotions like this one give small businesses visibility. In fact in 2011, the US Senate officially recognized “Small Business Saturday.”  There is no doubt that the movement is growing and almost 70% of consumers last year said they were aware of the day. While few can argue with the good intentions (not to mention great promotion), I believe that small business needs to do more than just make people feel good about their support. We need to differentiate ourselves so that we compete effectively in what is continues to be a tough economy.

How do we do it? Here are a few examples.

A small rental company in Raleigh, NC has made its mark by taking a different path than the big guys. Instead of having all the typical rental products they seek out the unusual. They buy designer fabrics and make their own unique linens, chair covers and runners. They buy cool china and refresh their inventory frequently. As a result, they can and do compete with much larger businesses.

A local retail sporting goods store in my city always gets my business when it comes to buying running shoes. Sure, I could buy them cheaper at a big box store but my local retailer has something they don’t- people who really know the products and advise me of the features and benefits that are important to me. They also share lots of great ideas about sporting events and health activities.

My company is not a retail operation, but we want other companies to “shop us” as well. We work hard to challenge clients to try new ways of communicating, different formats and spokespersons instead of doing the same old thing year after year. We think creatively with them to find innovative approaches and work to find fresh ways to get them noticed.

Small Business Saturday is a great idea and I applaud the sponsors.  However, small business must do its part if we want to bring customers to the door every day of the year. We must be responsive, service-oriented, different in “good way,” creative and provide a measurable value. That’s what will keep the small business engine chugging along today and into the future.



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