I'm a champion of small business – but I hate Small Business Saturday | Gene Marks

The annual US celebration of small businesses is demeaning. If we’re good at what we do, we don’t need acts of charity

On 24 November, the day after Black Friday and two days before Cyber Monday, Americans will “celebrate” our eighth annual Small Business Saturday.

The holiday, which started in 2010, has grown into something of a national phenomenon. What began as just a promotional campaign thought up by American Express has now spawned more than 7,200 “neighborhood champions” who “rally their communities with events and activities” according to the company. Since then a number of business associations, non-profit trade groups and municipalities have formed the Small Business Saturday Coalition, which aims to encourage “everyone to shop small”.

American Express claims that more than $85bn has been spent at small restaurants and merchants since the campaign started and that “90% of consumers surveyed said Small Business Saturday has had a positive impact on their community”.

I hate Small Business Saturday.

I’m not trying to be contrarian or controversial. I’ve held this opinion and have written about it before. Over time, my position against this hype-driven marketing exercise has only hardened. I’m a small business owner. I write about small businesses. I’m a champion of small businesses. But I don’t believe that this circus – which originated as a marketing campaign to get more people to spend money with their American Express cards during a recession (merchants were originally given an incentive to offer customers on the day) – reflects well on small business. Why?

Well for one thing it makes us look needy. It screams of desperation. It’s like we’re begging for customers. “Oh, please, please, PLEASE buy something from my store!” “Support Main Street or we may no longer be around!” “Buy from ME because I need all the help I can get!”

If you’re running a good business you shouldn’t need a national campaign backed by a finance company made up mostly of people that have never run a small business to promote you. And, for goodness sake, you shouldn’t be relying on one single day of the year to boost your sales. Every day should be Small Business Saturday. You should be selling the right products, charging the right prices and performing excellent services.

People should want to do business with you regardless of whether you’re a “small business” or not. Most of my clients actually hate being referred to as a small business. To them, it’s demeaning and more than just a little insulting. They’re specialists, professionals, retailers and experts. Small means pitiful and they don’t want to be pitied by marketing executives and the media on one day of shopping.

Second, it has an anti-big business feel. We get a day where people are encouraged to indirectly thumb their noses at big merchants and giant corporations and instead spend their money at mom-and-pop, even if their products are more expensive or inferior. That’s silly. While small businesses are said to employ half of the US workforce, guess who employs the other half – and pays their people more?

Guess who’s spending money at those small shops, at the mall, at restaurants and with landscapers, plumbers, dry cleaners, gas stations, pizzerias and Amazon merchants? Yeah, that’s right: employees who work at those evil, giant corporations. And guess who’s biggest and most profitable customer for the typical small business (like mine)? Right again: BigCo. I’m just not a fan of a national day of celebration that kind of takes a dig at large companies and the 50% of the population who work at them. Particularly because they’re so valuable to me and millions of other small business owners like me.

Finally, I think Small Business Saturday benefits the wrong people. Who are really gaining from this? Would that $85bn, however it’s calculated, been spent regardless of whether there was a Small Business Saturday or not? No one really knows. But I bet it would’ve.

Meanwhile, look who’s getting all the exposure. It’s not the mom and pop on Main Street. It’s American Express, of course. Oh, and FedEx, AT&T, Dell, Facebook, GrubHub, Hertz, Intuit and scores of other giant corporations who are getting their names and brands in front of the public eye. But that’s not all. What politician – from presidents to local council members – doesn’t love to be photographed buying something from a local business? And what business group or community organization that’s operating on a shoestring budget doesn’t appreciate a little PR boost from the holiday?

Go ahead. Ask 10 small businesses – and I mean real businesses with real business owners that are selling anything from pipes to auto parts to engineering services as well as the cute little dress store on Main Street – if they’re benefiting from Small Business Saturday. You’ll probably get an indifferent shrug.

Small Business Saturday is embarrassing, demeaning and condescending to the people running small companies. If we’re good at what we do, then we don’t need anyone “supporting” us like we’re a charity.


Gene Marks

The GuardianTramp

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