Small businesses are preparing for the holidays amid inflation: NPR

Banners promote Small Business Saturday in West Reading, Pa. on Nov. 25, 2017.

Jeremy Drey/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

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Jeremy Drey/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

Banners promote Small Business Saturday in West Reading, Pa. on Nov. 25, 2017.

Jeremy Drey/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

This Small Business Saturday, expect free cookies, loyalty rewards and holiday cheer. But maybe not deep discounts.

For small business owners, surviving the last few years of lockdown, empty stores and supply chain shortages has been no mean feat.

Now there’s another beast rearing its head: inflation.

“Our expenses have skyrocketed,” said Tina Miller, owner of Walkabout Outfitter, a family-owned chain in Virginia that sells outdoor gear.

That’s mostly in payroll, Miller said, but he also expects the cost of his inventory to rise significantly.

Additionally, Miller is feeling pressure to keep his prices down. He says sales are flat from last year.

Miller hopes to see things pick up again this weekend, for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. But she is worried.

“Will people hold back? Will they just go for less stuff? I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Miller said.

“I’m trying to be very optimistic.”

Small Business Saturday: An Origin Story

Small Business Saturday is a relatively new concept. It was started in 2010 by American Express, as a way to bring attention and customers to small businesses after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

According to a report by American Express, about $0.68 of every dollar spent on small businesses stays in the local community.

And in 2011, the Senate passed a resolution recognizing the day, to encourage people to buy local products.

Free cookies instead of sales

With rising costs and razor-thin profit margins, many small businesses simply can’t afford the massive markdowns and across-the-board sales that big retailers are making this weekend, so they’re using other things to lure shoppers.

NPR has been monitoring the status of several small businesses since the pandemic began, and we reached out to three to see what they’re expecting this shopping season.

Miller, the owner of Walkabout Outfitter, nearly went bankrupt in 2020. To survive, she also launched an online store.

Many of her customers, mostly women in their 40s and 50s, now prefer to shop online, Miller said, but her physical stores are still central to her business.

Miller hopes the in-person experience will draw customers to her shop this weekend, because she doesn’t plan to put much up for sale.

The perks of shopping IRL? Free cookies and coffee.

Miller said what makes this weekend special isn’t the prices, however, it’s the atmosphere.

“I see all the people that I might not see all year long,” Miller said. “It’s usually busy and lively and fun and people are in great spirits.”

Giving in the spirit of the holidays

Juby George founded Smell the Curry, an Indian food and take-out catering company, last December after having been a programmer for more than 20 years.

Inflation has driven up the price of ingredients – everything from meat to vegetables is now more expensive. But George isn’t willing to pass that burden onto his clients. Instead, he tries to rework the menu to keep prices constant.

George is offering discounted meals to those in need during the holiday season. He also gives leftover food to a local charity. “Nothing goes to waste on my part,” said George.

Loyalty count

Patti Riordan is the owner of The Smoke Stack Hobby Shop in Lancaster, Ohio, which sells model trains and craft supplies.

It’s doing what Small Business Saturday has always done: Riordan has a loyalty program for its customers, and they’ll double those rewards if they shop this weekend.

Riordan is excited to showcase a new collection of trains, which her shop bought after a story about the shop aired on NPR in August.

Sales of The Smoke Stack have slowed in recent months. But Riordan is confident going into this weekend. He sees it as an indicator of what sales will look like for the rest of the year.

“If it’s really strong, then that, to me, says the next four weeks are going to be strong. If it’s soft, then we’ll set our thinking limits.”

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