November 30, 2019, is Small Business Saturday. Starting in 2010, American Express designated this day—the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year—to encourage people to “Shop Small.” The financial services company reports that since the commemoration began, “Consumers have reported spending an estimated $103 billion across all Small Business Saturdays combined.”
As a community revitalization expert, I welcome every chance to shine a spotlight on the small businesses and local entrepreneurs who make up the economic engine of most small and mid-size towns and cities.
Days like Small Business Saturday can help business owners get face time with customers who might not normally shop there. And consumers get to see what they might be missing—the personal connections and experiences they may not always get from online or big box retailers.
Still, shopping small and local can and should be more than a symbolic one-day-a-year event. Anyone who wants a stronger, more vibrant community needs to support their small businesses every day. They are the key to economic revitalization. They play a vital role in creating the “sense of place” that gives a community its competitive advantage.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses create two out of every three net new jobs in the private sector. What’s more, over half of all Americans own or work for a small business.
There’s a symbiotic relationship between residents and small business owners. They really need each other. Small businesses provide jobs and keep the dollars circulating locally. Their owners have an active and personal interest in the well-being of the community. They live there. Their kids go to school there. They care about what happens.
When wealth is created, business owners are more likely to turn around and reinvest in the community.
In fact, small businesses have a far more important role in their communities than ever before. The old “pillars”—big institutions like banks, hospitals, media outlets, and other businesses—are no longer locally owned. The executives who work for them play a critical short-term role in the community, but often they’re not there for the long haul. It’s no longer a given that they’ll retire there. So small business leaders must step in to fill this leadership void.
A few decades ago, the owners of these “pillar” businesses were committed to keeping their communities vibrant. They knew their economic health depended on it. But now that the owners of these former “pillars” live elsewhere, they just don’t have the same intimate connection to the community.
It makes sense for small businesses to take the lead in pulling communities out of the economic slump many have been in for years. When communities are vibrant, there are more high-paying jobs, and people can afford to shop. Quality of life improves. There’s more money for schools and programs that lift people out of poverty. Everyone wins.
That’s what happened in Pensacola, which in recent years has seen a surge in new businesses and explosive growth in property values. Small businesses have galvanized into a solid group, and they take an active role in the leadership of the community.
The city’s business leaders mentor new entrepreneurs. They’ve put systems in place to ensure that all small business owners are well trained in the leadership skills they need to thrive long-term. And successful small businesses give back. Hopefully other communities will use Pensacola’s journey as a blueprint.
Many small businesses have made their commitment to their local community part of their brand. This is what customers want. The more chaotic and uncertain the world becomes; the more people crave a safe and stable home base. This is a huge trend, and it’s taking place all over America.
This is how you, the small business owner, can compete with the mega-retailers. Create an experience for your community. Citizens will know they’re being looked after, and they will want to do business locally. This can become your competitive advantage. Take care of the community, and it will take care of you.
The bottom line? Don’t shop locally only on Small Business Saturday. Do it every chance you get, all year long.
A purchase from a small business owner is an investment in your community. Who better to support than those who are working so hard to create a better future for everyone?