Though it’s too early for concrete data, many area businesses indicated they enjoyed major success on Small Business Saturday, on Nov. 24 this year.
“While we don’t have a local survey or local data available, the indication we’ve received informally certainly suggests this year’s Small Business Saturday likely exceeded expectations,” said Brent Donnelly, deputy district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Helena.
Several local business owners said that Small Business Saturday and even Black Friday surpassed their expectations.
“We’ve been open for four months now and didn’t really know what to expect,” said Cindy Loacker, owner of Beargrass Trading Company. “But we got a wonderful reception from the Helena community.”
Loacker said Beargrass had a great weekend in terms of sales and foot traffic with about 300 customers on Saturday and a little more than 250 customers on Friday.
Michelle Robinson, owner of Sage and Oats Trading Post, had a similar experience just around the corner in downtown Helena.
“We had a really strong weekend on par with the art walk and our grand opening,” Robinson said. “We did really well on Black Friday too.”
Both Robinson and Loacker said Small Business Saturday was their best day of business since the fall art walk in early November.
The difference is that more people were buying on Small Business Saturday.
“During the art walk we had maybe 500 people come through the shop, but only 50 or so purchases,” Robinson said. “On Small Business Saturday we had probably 200 customers and half of them bought something.
“We did similar numbers on Black Friday with business calming down by Sunday,” Robinson said.
Small Business Saturday wasn’t just big for new businesses, it helped breathe some life into old businesses as well. “We did pretty well considering our old location was horrible,” said Vikki Bohlman, owner of Dinners Done Right. “We had a long, steady Saturday, which is really nice.”
The business moved into its current home on Cedar Street in the past year.
Bohlman said the business survived at the old location for many years, but this new location has played a major role in helping the business succeed this Small Business Saturday. She said the business enjoyed a combination of regulars and new faces.
“There were a lot of new faces and a lot more people trying to keep their money local,” She said.
Robinson also reported seeing lots of new faces. “The majority of the people who came in were new customers,” Robinson said. Raising awareness of Sage and Oats is currently the most important aspect of the business, she said.
"We sell unique products, so getting people into the store is the biggest hurdle,” Robinson said.
Loacker said she saw a lot of knew faces in the store and wanted to thank the community for its support. She also said people who knew it was Small Business Saturday took the opportunity to explore new local businesses.
Promotion played a big factor in getting these new faces into the businesses and each business owner had a different technique.
Robinson had promotional cards redeemable for 10 percent off any purchase. She handed out and left the cards around town to raise awareness. She said many were redeemed that weekend.
Loacker worked with her partners - local artists who have their work sold in Beargrass - to offer promotions across the store. Two photographers and a jeweler she works with offered discounts on their work. She also offered a discount on some of Beargrass’ vintage furnishings. They all will be working hard to ensure that the store is filled in unique Christmas décor for the holiday season.
Loacker used her growing social media presence and membership with Downtown Helena and the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce to promote her Small Business Saturday deals.
Bohlman worked closely with her neighbors to achieve customer crossover. The businesses in the Cedar Street strip mall cross-promoted each other to customers throughout the day. She credits the successful day to the community understanding the importance of local businesses.
“We help with local organizations and events for kid’s activities," Bohlman said. "That’s what we small businesses support. Thank you to all the local people in Helena for keeping our small business alive and thriving in our community.”
For Robinson, a successful Small Business Saturday was just the beginning. “We feel this was the kickoff to the holiday season, but it’s not over yet,” she said. “We look forward to having people come explore new artisan wares and having Sage and Oats be that destination.”
For the Small Business Administration, the successful weekend is a boon to the community.
“It’s exciting to hear yet again how Montanans get out and support their essential local small businesses, which are so critical to our community,” Donnelly said. “Here in Helena we’ve heard reports of local small businesses literally having hundreds of customers come through their doors. This is not a surprise.”
Small Business Saturday is a growing holiday across the country, according to founding organization American Express. A recent estimate said that about 70 percent of American adults are aware of the holiday. The high small business turnout extends to both retail and online small businesses.
American Express reported a record high of $17.8 billion spent nationwide is estimated among consumers who reported shopping at independent retailers and restaurants on Nov. 24. This brings total estimated Small Business Saturday spending to $103 billion since the event began in 2010.