Small Business Saturday Lesson: Be Awesome, Not Awful

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Small Business Saturday isn’t new, but it is definitely still experiencing growing pains, which can make it tough on businesses that volunteer to get the word out. Our business has been participating the last several years in Small Business Saturday, so we’re not new to it, but it’s still a new concept to myriad merchants. The work calls for getting materials into the hands of local small businesses.

The effort was designed to increase “mom and pop” shops visibility in the community, build a stronger local economy, support our small business friends, and of course, bring some awareness of great businesses that make up our local landscape. Our philosophy is that by building up those around us, we all become more vibrant. Volunteerism is also part of our company culture, so this initiative is a perfect fit for us.

So what’s involved in this year’s version of Small Business Saturday? We had to sign up and be chosen as a Neighborhood Champion, and then materials start arriving from the SBS folks. I should say “It’s fun, but it’s not really easy.” Assembling all the goodies takes some coordination, as does planning everything from the time devoted to making all the stops, to actually making those deliveries and speaking with the shop owners. Our assembly of things this year was: a Shop Small tote, filled with a variety of promotional items, including more totes, pens, balloons, rubber stamps, and “Welcome to the Neighborhood” mats. We took things a step further and included a Square in all the packages, too. We also put out supportive social media messaging leading up to the big Saturday, and try to promote those businesses’ deals as we can.

All said, it’s a lot of work, but you know what makes it even harder? Skeptical or unreceptive business owners.

Why, when someone arrives bearing free stuff to help your business, would you be anything less than grateful? While many were really ecstatic to receive these parcels, others seemed completely bothered by our visits. Some shop owners were unaware of the whole Small Business Saturday thing, but even after we explained, “it’s a way to encourage customers to shop with you”, they just seemed apathetic or disinterested. In these situations, I wanted to just say “No soup for you!”, and take the goodies back and give them to someone more appreciative, maybe someone more in need.

Usually, I’ll just blow this kind of stuff off, but this year, it just left a sour taste in my mouth. As a result, the businesses that displayed this kind of attitude, we gave absolutely zero attention in our own promotion of the event. If they treat us like this, how would I have any assurance they’d treat referred consumers any better? Let’s face it: just because they’re small and local doesn’t mean they’re kind and awesome. Taking no chances, we just simply didn’t and won’t mention them in our posts, but know this: we also (sadly) won’t be spending our money or time in these particular places of business. Thinking I might be being a bit sensitive, I even Yelped a couple of these places, and unsurprisingly, others confirmed the bad experiences I was having. Sigh.

Shop owners, take note: Your exclusive or one-of-a-kind items might be great, but if your attitude stinks, people will spend money their money elsewhere. You can have a place brimming with great deals, but if people feel unappreciated or disrespected in your store, you are giving them the greatest reason ever to shop in Big Box stores or online. This also reminds me of the time my daughter was prepared to spend a some money she saved in a little boutique near us.  The staff were so rude to her and made her feel insignificant, so she left without spending a dime there. She came home and shared the experience with me, and while I found it deplorable to treat a little girl like that, I also knew they wouldn’t last doing business this way. And guess what? They were closed in less than 6 months after that.

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