Small (and local) businesses received a lot of “air time” in the past few years as business organizations, media outlets, and even large businesses amplified the message that it’s important to “Shop Small.” But where did the idea of Small Business Season come from and how did it shape up this year for chambers across the globe?
Why a Whole Season Dedicated to Shopping Small?
The idea for a Small Business Season originated in 2009 with a campaign led by Norma Davey at the Kelso Longview Chamber of Commerce.
Norma recognized that it was a tough time for many local and small businesses (much like today). The ease of online shopping coupled with the Great Recession, had taken a toll on local businesses in her community. Many were struggling. They just didn’t know how to compete. It had been easy to compete with other stores in town, but now that the push was online shopping, they didn’t know what to do.
After speaking with several businesses, she came up with an idea for a campaign focused on helping neighbors and rewarding one another.
Shop Local and Win was born.
Norma wanted to create a program that would bring the community and businesses together to keep the dollars spent on holiday shopping local. She knew it would be easy to spend a lot of marketing dollars shouting a catchphrase but to make a big impact she had to speak to the “why” behind shopping local. Norma wanted to educate shoppers and businesses about the reason they needed more than a day to support small.
Norma created a marketing push where everybody won.
The program rewarded shoppers for spending with their favorite local businesses. She outlined the program parameters and implemented rewards to incentivize buyers to shop local. Her message focused on the idea that when dollars remain local, everybody wins.
The Shop Local and Win program ran for three weeks and brought a lot of revenue to local businesses.
When Norma traveled to chamber conferences, she shared her experience of instituting a shop local marketing push. By 2009, her messaging had spread through the industry. Other chambers were implementing similar programs based on Norma’s suggestions and experiencing similar success and improved morale.
Fast-forward to another difficult economic time where small businesses are struggling in similar ways.
Some are still facing supply chain issues and a lack of available employees. Last season was a record for online businesses. E-Commerce sales reached $870 billion in the US in 2021, a 14.2% increase over 2020 and a 50.5% increase over 2019, according to the US Department of Commerce Retail Indicator Division’s Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales 4th Quarter 2021 report. Many brick-and-mortar businesses found it difficult to compete with the convenience and availability of online offerings. Costs of everything have risen and small businesses have had to raise prices to remain solvent.
The importance of shopping small and shopping local is a message that needs to be heard again. One day is not nearly enough to help struggling businesses.
Enter Small Business Season
Small Business Season was born out of a desire to communicate the value of small businesses to their communities. Most people don’t think about the fact that their towns are comprised of tens, hundreds, or thousands of these unique entrepreneurial enterprises. These businesses add:
- convenience (by being able to get what you need in town instead of driving to others),
- flavor (all small businesses are different and bring something unique to the town),
- a sense of community, and
Small businesses may also bring in tourists. Without these businesses, the area would suffer. If that happened, other things would eventually decline as well such as visitors and real estate prices. Small business plays a big role in the local economy and Norma wanted to ensure people understood the symbiotic relationship that existed between these businesses and the community’s quality of life.
Norma and Frank shared the vision to create a marketing campaign that communities across the country (and the world) could use. Chambers and businesses would get maximum impact without having to start from scratch.
Norma and Frank both believe that supporting small business is more than just a day, it’s a lifestyle and created a turn-key Small Business Season marketing campaign with a logo, universal messaging, social media images, articles, cover images, and creative content talking up the benefit of shopping and supporting small. As Norma wrote in two of her images:
The best way to spread holiday cheer is to shop local this year.
Who we buy from will decide who’s standing later. Let’s make sure all the small businesses we love are on that list.
Hundreds of chambers in the states and across the borders took their efforts to heart and used the materials they created to advance their shop local, support local, or shop small efforts.
In seven short weeks, it took off, improved morale in many areas among struggling business people, and it gave everyone the undeniable feeling of joy that comes from helping a neighbor.
Small Business Season Around the Country
Shopping small is more than just a catchphrase. It’s a culture shift.
Communities that are successful at it need to recondition buyers to understand the ramifications of their shopping decisions and where they spend their money. Online mega retailers are convenient but they’re not sponsoring your daughter’s softball team and they’re not (usually) helping to build community.
If people want small businesses to be sponsors and participating members of the community, they need to ensure those business owners have enough revenue to remain in the community.
Melissa Martinez embraced this initiative and incorporated the Small Business Season messaging in early 2021. She began so early, that she caught the eye of the chief executive of her state–the governor. The support for small business that she orchestrated at her chamber drew statewide attention when the governor asked her if the state of Wisconsin could launch its shop small push in her town!
Melissa shared: “We had a large group of dignitaries in our community yesterday including the Governor and the Secretary of Economic Development. Earlier in the week, Norma converted the logo to a high-resolution file that I could get printed. We got 50 12×12 posters printed to put in the windows of all the windows on the main road going through our downtown area.
Before we left my office to visit other businesses I had everyone sign one of our posters so we could frame it to commemorate the occasion. Doing so brought their attention to the signs and when we were walking they were excited to see all the businesses with a poster in their window. The Secretary was so impressed that she asked for one to take with her. We used it in photo ops and it was visible in the news reports and pictures.
It helped us tie in what we are promoting at the chamber with the state shop small campaign that they were in town to launch. We are making waves as chamber professionals and the movement is catching on.”
Melissa is not the only one garnering attention for the small businesses in her community. Check out what these other chamber professionals are doing:
Charlie Chamber, of the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, is visiting small businesses and posting his escapades on social media.
Lily the Chamber Pup is taking on downtown Springfield and TikTok for pawsome results.
The St. Lawrence County Chamber’s Craft, Food & Wine Show even had a shop small theme and they incorporated the Small Business Season branding into everything to heighten the message and awareness.
Last-minute pushes. Shopping online is really convenient until you realize your orders won’t make it in time for Christmas. This is a timely message the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce is tying into its shopping small campaign.
Many chambers have seen the small businesses in their community sharing their Small Business Season messaging and images as well. The reach has been extraordinary.
The Future of Small Business Season
There are a lot of unknowns out there like inflation, continued supply chain challenges, employment problems, and COVID variants. Even small businesses with successful holiday seasons may be struggling this time next year. But one thing is certain, Small Business Season will be even larger next year.
Participating chambers should give thought to the role they want to play in next year’s Small Business Season campaign in their community.
Plan for it now, by getting it on the calendar and brainstorming ideas, as well as aligning those actions with chamber goals. We’ll see an even bigger celebration of small business in 2023.
And we can’t wait to see it.
More from our Small Business Season Series:
Support Small Business – Why It’s a Big Deal
Small Business Season Statistics and Stories for Marketing
26 Ideas for Small Business Season Social Media Posts
6 Small Business Season Marketing Ideas for Chambers
16 Reasons to Shop Local Instead of Online (A “done for you” article for chambers to use)
Small Business Saturday? NO, It’s Small Business SEASON!