A Q&A With Small Business Saturday’s Katie Washington

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Now in its fifth year, Small Business Saturday will kick off the holiday shopping season on November 29. With more than 2,000 communities participating in the Neighborhood Champion program this year, Small Business Saturday remains a critical way for shoppers and businesses alike to show their support for keeping local dollars within their communities. At independent bookstores across the country, the day will also feature Indies First celebrations, with guest authors serving as booksellers and other special events.

Katie Washington, director of Shop Small and Small Business Saturday at American Express OPEN, recently spoke to Bookselling This Week about the origins of the program, new resources available to stores this year, and what makes the event so popular.

Bookselling This Week: How did the Small Business Saturday program get started?

It started back in 2010 and was really created in response to small businesses owners’ primary need, which we heard time and time again: more customers. Since then it’s really blossomed, but it started out of the need for small businesses to get more customers.

BTW:  What does Small Business Saturday offer to make the program something that stores can adapt and tailor to their own needs?

We’ve spent a lot of time and effort creating these turnkey tools that people can to use to create their own marketing. The best example is on our website now, in the Promote Your Business section: you fill out a simple form with the name of your business and what it’s known for, and it produces all these marketing assets for you that are personalized for your business.

The single biggest thing that we’ve done is to try to make it really easy for anybody to access marketing materials and create their own. Another big piece of that is we’ve given away free advertising since the first year, and we’re continuing to do that this year. Small business owners can log in until November 14 and apply for free ads.

BTW: What other resources are available for businesses that are looking to participate in Small Business Saturday?

Small business owners can order free merchandise to use in their store, like welcome mats and bags to give to customers on the day. We really try to help build a halo around the day so that consumers know that it exists. Taking advantage of those marketing materials and the merchandise allows any business owner to tap into that larger halo.

It’s very easy to get involved, whether with social media or by downloading all these marketing assets. Just doing a little bit, there’s an opportunity to get a lot out of it. It’s easy. That’s probably the biggest thing I like to tell people.

BTW: What’s new in the program this year?

There are various things that are new this year. In addition to the resources I mentioned, FedEx is a partner of ours again. Businesses can create a sign and can print it for free at FedEx. There’s free advertising available through Yelp. Microsoft will offer some special deals. We’re also doing a partnership with Eventbrite, so any store that is doing an event can create an event listing on the site.

BTW: What do you think has made Small Business Saturday so popular both among small businesses and their customers?

I think it’s implicit. Small businesses are a core part of everyone’s community, whether you’re a consumer or a business owner. We have data from last year that says 52 percent of the money you spend at an independent business stays in your community. That’s part of why customers are interested in supporting independent businesses. Often, even, it’s just a history of life moments that include small businesses — and probably even especially bookstores.

Important Information About the American Express Card Member Offer for Small Business Saturday

As part of the Small Business Saturday promotion, American Express card members can earn up to $30 in credits by spending at least $10 at three different qualifying small businesses on November 29.

Qualifying businesses are listed on the Shop Small® Map. Booksellers should log into their merchant account here to confirm their information and ensure they are listed on the map. American Express will be promoting the offer and the map to its Card Members. Learn more about the offer here.