Ted Streuli

Ted Streuli

You’ve recovered from the turkey, the football, the stampede at Best Buy. Your mouse is warmed up and ready to click its way to bargain bliss on Cyber Monday and you’ve set aside a little something for your favorite charity on Giving Tuesday. But today — ah, today — is Small Business Saturday. You had that circled on your calendar, didn’t you?

American Express started it in 2010 to encourage shoppers to spend whatever they had left after Black Friday with local, independent retailers (preferably those who accept American Express cards).

Local newspapers started touting the shop local notion approximately 17 minutes after the web press was invented. Local retail success means local ad buys, which means local publishing success.

Just how big a small business is depends on who you ask. The Small Business Administration says it’s a company with fewer than 500 employees. In the Europena Union it’s fewer than 50; in Australia it means fewer than 15. Okay, now we’re getting down to my size.

We are fickle shoppers. Emotionally, we all love the idea of supporting local retailers, but it’s hard to pass up that bottle of wine at Target in favor of a separate trip to Edmond Wine Shop and Best Buy, with a $21.28 billion market cap, has the resources to market its wares until you can’t even name another appliance retailer while Weathers, which does not have a $21.28 billion market cap, has been in downtown Edmond for 60 years, will be just as happy to sell you a refrigerator.

The difference for the consumer is that you can talk to someone. Sure, you can pop into Target and ask the kid which aisle the Yellow Tail is on, but the guy at Edmond Wine Shop can answer that and then tell you about 20 better wines he has in stock for the same price and work out which might suit your taste buds.

Need a magnum of Korbel Natural? They’ll get one for you. Try asking for that at Target.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Target. And their employees are always friendly and polite and do their best to answer any question you might have. But they’re not going to have an answer for a magnum of Natural. 

The difference between most big businesses and small ones is that ability to talk to someone. I am guilty of doing a lot of my Christmas shopping on Amazon (they take American Express too), but I don’t get to have a conversation about what I’m buying, I don’t stumble into anything wonderful I wasn’t already looking for, and I don’t learn anything. Stop into some place like Edmond Wine Shop and when you leave you’re going to know something about wine you didn’t know when you walked in.

Marketing Small Business Saturday, or any other version of a shop-local campaign, has leaned toward the idea that it’s a duty; we’re reminded of how important small businesses are, how many they employ and what they do for the local economy. That’s backward in my book. We consumers are a selfish lot and we want to know what’s in it for us. Is it cheaper? More convenient? No, it’s probably neither of those.

But Target’s not going to tell you about magnums of Korbel Natural and you’re probably not going to make a new friend while you’re there. That’s the unique joy of shopping locally. Plus, they take American Express.


© 2019 Ted Streuli

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