Small merchants in Maryland reported mixed results from the third annual Small Business Saturday holiday shopping promotion this weekend.
“I think people want to do it, but I think everyone ran out of money Friday,” said Bob Porterfield, manager of the 35-year-old Belmont TV store in Laurel.
Small Business Saturday is sponsored by the Small Business Administration and American Express to encourage consumers to shop at small businesses after the initial Black Friday rush. American Express tried to boost interest this year by offering 100,000 card customers a $25 credit for “shopping small.”
The American Express website reported that the event was a “great day for small businesses,” but it provided no data.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses released a survey last week that showed that 67 percent of people familiar with the promotion planned to patronize small retailers Saturday. It also showed that 70 percent planned to spend more or the same amount as last year and would spend $100 on average.
“I think it’s a good idea, but it’s not quite there yet,” said Gillian Market, manager of Ginger, a women’s clothing and gift store in Bethesda. “People definitely came in, but it just wasn’t a busy day.”
Ginger focused most of its sales on Black Friday, offering 40 percent off during the early hours and then scaling down to 10 percent by Saturday, Market said. She said Ginger did better this Saturday than during last year’s promotion.
“It’s the right time of year and the right thought,” she said. “I just don’t know what else we need to do to get people out.”
Porterfield said this year’s event was more heavily advertised than last year’s, but he questioned whether that advertising began early enough. He said he received his notice about the $25 American Express credit Wednesday.
“It makes people think, though. It’s a good thing,” Porterfield said.
Sequel, another women’s clothing store in Bethesda, matched the American Express offer with a $25 discount for the first $100 customers spent, said assistant manager Sandy Woock.
She said the day was slow for the 35-year-old store, but overall holiday sales have been slow thus far.
“Paired with Christmas and the holidays, women’s clothing isn’t as busy, since women aren’t shopping for themselves at those times,” Woock said.
Hobby Lobby in Laurel experienced an “average” Saturday, said store manager Scott Branch.
“I don’t see anything coming from it,” Branch said of the Saturday promotion. “People are more interested in the all-mighty dollar. We offer services here as well as items. Fewer and fewer customers are appreciating that.”
Harry Thompson, a stylist at fashion and jewelry store Metamorphosis Boutique in Silver Spring, had the same “OK” interpretation of the day’s sales.
“We did have a few clients who came in specifically for Small Business Saturday,” he said, although he echoed concerns that holiday shopping was down overall.
Toy Kingdom in Rockville had rosier news to report, boasting a stronger Saturday than in previous years, said owner Carlos Aulestia. But he said Friday was still better, despite the sales he offered on Saturday.
Statewide, merchants tended to fare well on Saturday, said Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.
“The folks I’ve talked to said things went well and they were very pleased,” he said. “People now understand it and want to come out and support local businesses.”
He said, however, the promotion could use some help in its “execution” so that people are not confused as to who is participating.
The American Express website provided a locator to find businesses that had registered to participate with the company.