Eileen Buriani and Jennifer Richmond both feel like David in the fight against Goliath around this time of year.
As small business owners, both women feel the pressure of competing against large mainstream retailers during the madness of the holiday shopping season.
They each consider the holidays a crucial time of year for sales, but neither can afford to attract shoppers through the steep discounts offered by their massive competitors.
“You get a lot of pressure because some of them carry the same products I carry,” said Buriani, owner of Kidegories, a specialty children’s and nursery furniture boutique on Route 35 South in Shrewsbury. “It’s very hard to compete with the big guys.”
“I do (feel pressure), especially with some of the supermarkets,” said Richmond, owner of JenniCakes, a custom cake and cupcake shop on Hooper Avenue in Toms River. “Everything here is made fresh, everything is top quality, whereas they can … get a lot of their sugar and flour in such bulk. They get it so much cheaper where they can make their prices cheaper.”
Shoppers spent $5.7 billion on small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2013, otherwise known as Small Business Saturday, which American Express started in 2010. That figure marked a four percent increase from $5.5 billion in 2012. The company could not provide an estimate as to how much it expects shoppers to spend on small businesses this year.
‘Less intense experience’
“The purpose of Small Business Saturday is to really focus on a less intense experience for shopping for the holidays,” said Laurie Ehlbeck, a state director for New Jersey at the National Federation of Independent Business, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan and nonprofit association that represents independent and small businesses. “Black Friday has turned into a very tumultuous sort of experience.”
But even with an entire day set aside during the most lucrative shopping weekend of the year, small businesses face a tough challenge claiming their share of holiday shoppers from big businesses. So instead of the major markdowns and other sales heavily promoted by big businesses leading up to and during the holiday season, the selling points for small businesses remain customer service and quality.
Small businesses provide “personal one-on-one attention … as opposed to a big box store or a mall,” Ehlbeck said. “Not only can they provide you with goods and services that you might not be able to get anywhere else, but they are the ones that know it best because it’s their business that they have started personally and then they’re able to give you exceptional customer service that you’re not going to find anywhere else.”
For Buriani, that means providing as much of her time as needed by customers looking to buy furniture at Kidegories.
“We can spend as little as 10 minutes to two hours with customers,” said Buriani. “We do gift-wrapping beautifully. We make the presentation that they’re walking out of the store with, one that becomes memorable when the gift is given.”
Meanwhile, Richmond prides JenniCakes on offering personal attention to the baked goods sought by her customers.
“We spend time with them, we help them design it, we help them come up with sayings, come up with designs and help them with the flavors,” said Richmond, who estimates that her business makes 25 percent of its annual sales from Thanksgiving to Christmas. “They’re not getting your typical vanilla cake or whatnot. We’ll help them … to give them the better fillings and stuff like that so that they can really enjoy our product for exactly what it is.”
But without the hefty advertising budgets of large retailers, small businesses must find less expensive, if not free, ways to advertise their products and attract shoppers. Otherwise, they risk losing the chance to showcase their customer service and quality on which they depend to drive growth.
“A lot of these businesses rely on word of mouth and rely on being instrumental parts of their communities year-round,” Ehlbeck said. “So if you’re looking for a shop to go to, you’re going to go to the place that you saw on the back of your kid’s T-shirt at a softball game or that was donating goods for a fundraiser for the PTA.”
For both Buriani and Richmond, that means constant use of social media, especially Facebook.
“Social media seems to be reaching people even though they’re getting inundated by everybody,” said Buriani, who employs five people, including herself. “We just keep posting our products and pictures of what we do. Pictures tell a thousand words sometimes.”
“I usually take pictures of all of our products that we sell … and then we put them out on Facebook … Twitter … and then we push for … everybody to share the pictures,” said Richmond, who employs three people, including herself. “It ends up giving us some more followers and then people usually will call in and order them.”
Anthony Panissidi; 732-643-4284; firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written by Anthony Panissidi from Asbury Park Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.