Looking for an alternative? Explore the sharing economy
Small business owners are constantly on the lookout for ways to increase their visibility and sales, especially on Black Friday. The day after American Thanksgiving is often seen as an indicator of whether a retail store will not only be able to turn a profit during the Christmas season, but expand its customer base for the coming year. And for many small retail shops, the challenge can be even greater if they are competing against big box stores in their local area.
One store in the Portland, Ore. area, however, has come up with an unusual idea that not only has the potential to increase revenue, but to promote the city’s small businesses.
Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich, owners of the Betsy and Iya retail store in Northwest Portland are the brains behind Little Boxes, a promotional that was launched in 2011 and is directed toward encouraging customers to support small niche shops in their area.
The event, which takes place on Black Friday and Saturday, works like this:
Customers who make a purchase at one of the stores on the Little Boxes participating list is automatically eligible to earn a 10 percent discount each time they make a purchase at another registered store. Visitors can also enter a raffle just by turning up at a participating store (no purchase is necessary), and the more stores they visit, the more times they can enter the raffle. Visitors also earn additional raffle tickets at each store in which they purchase items. A customer who purchases items at four different stores for example, can earn 15 additional tickets; 12 stores yields 30 extra raffle tickets.
Cross, who is a jewelry designer by trade, said the idea of Little Boxes came to her one day on a fluke. She and her husband had just opened their retail outlet on NW Thurman St. last year when she got sick and was forced to take a few days off. The hiatus got her brainstorming about the true meaning of Black Friday.
“I started thinking about all those local shops that had supported me from the beginning of my career as a designer, and I thought, why does there never seem to be a focus on local shops on Black Friday?
Her idea, Cross said, seemed crazy at first, but was an instant sell with other business owners around the area.
“We ended up getting 90 shops on board last year, and it was a huge success,” Cross said. “Shoppers who normally don’t shop on Black Friday came out (and) people who do typically shop on (that day) but … go to big stores came to our stores as well.” Many of the participating shops reported record sales and new customers.
This year there will be 170 stores participating, with an even wider reach over 10 regional areas in and around Portland.
Cross acknowledged that while the shopping event does provide some competition against big box stores, that wasn’t her inspiration for Little Boxes.
“It is pretty important to us that it isn’t a competition for us, it’s not an ‘us against them’ type of thing. It’s just coming together with local shops.”
She also feels that Portland’s openness toward small local businesses helps nurture this type of camaraderie by increasing what she calls a “warm and friendly” atmosphere in which customers can feel comfortable to browse and shop.
“So, I don’t ever think about the big box stores. I don’t think that they are taking business away from us. Our scene is rich and I believe in what we are doing and I think it stands on its own.”
Still, she and her husband maintain a pragmatic outlook toward competing against large stores like Walmart and Target, which garner the majority of the country’s retail sales during Black Friday.
“It would be impossible to beat the big box stores.”
But with almost 200 retail stores to wander through ranging from clothing and handmade crafts to delicacies, fine art and jewelry, there will still be plenty of opportunities to find that special one-of-a-kind treasure for the holiday season. And for Portland’s small businesses, that’s what Black Friday is all about.
Images courtesy of BetsyandIya.