Shopping small makes a big difference
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
On Thanksgiving Day, eager customers looking for deals will line up outside of department stores in preparation for Black Friday, the fevered opening to the holiday shopping season. Retailers anxiously await the day with the same excitement as their customers. raditionally on that day companies report their ledgers go “into the black” for the first time in the year.
As the long shopping weekend has become more entrenched in consumer consciousness over the last decade, Cyber Monday, a campaign to promote online shopping, has become its own institution. Three years ago, American Express, a company which had over $150 billion worth of assets in 2012, created Small Business Saturday, a campaign to promote holiday shopping at small, local businesses.
“The American Express, as a financial services company, has financial services offerings for businesses at every level… but given the fact that 70 percent of the population is employed by small businesses, American Express wanted to partner with small businesses in a way that allows them to have a moment under the spotlight — to drive foot traffic to their stores and incentivize consumers to consider them … around the holiday season,” says Joseph Tolton, Managing Director of Interlex New York. He says in spite of the economic downturn, recent growth in minority and Black-owned businesses is the “sparkle” in the economy. However, according to AE, studies show Black unemployment is still far greater than the national average and African Americans access to capital lags by 60 percent, American Express told the Michigan Citizen in an email. This year, American Express is expressly reaching out to those businesses by partnering with the National Urban League and the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce in the campaign leading up to SBS.
The campaign has surpassed its initial ambitions. According to a survey conducted by American Express over $5.5 billion was spent at local businesses on SBS 2012. Today, the Small Business Saturday Facebook page has over three million “likes.”
In addition to co-ordinating the campaign, American Express is also printing SBS branded signage for individual small businesses; they have partnered with social media giants to provide $250,000 worth of Foursquare services to small businesses and $1 million worth of free Twitter advertising as well. This year’s SBS will take place Nov. 30 in locally-owned retail shops and restaurants across the country.
Felicia Patrick says Black Friday and SBS have been a tangible benefit for her business. Patrick has owned, Flo Boutique, a “simple, creative and funky store, ” located in Midtown Detroit (404 W Willis St) for 13 years. A trip into Flo reminds shoppers immediately shopping “small” isn’t simply good for the economy, it’s good for the soul. Patrick is affable and inviting. She loves to make personal connections with her clients, and is most happy when they come back and tell her how the outfit they got at Flo “went over.”
Although most (but not all) of the store’s clothing items and accessories are designed for women, Patrick has built up a loyal clientele of male customers who depend on her to help them select gifts for the women in their lives. Patrick teaches the men how to find their special ladies’ sizes without asking them, which would ruin the surprise. She still handwrites, her receipts so she can share a little extra time chatting with each customer before they leave. On SBS, most items in Flo will be discounted, including some items from Love Travels Imports.
Love Travels Imports, founded by former Xerox executive Yvette Jenkins, brings “high-quality, hand-crafted” items from artisan makers around the world and Detroit to local stores. Jenkins can bring items that normally wouldn’t be available to small shops like Flo, right to their door. Jenkins says today’s fast, cheap fashion is not made to last and lacks the richness that comes from natural materials and superb craftpersonship. “People love texture; they love to have a relationship with the people who make the things they wear,” she told the Michigan Citizen.
Jenkins is also leading the charge to adopt “Fair Tuesday” in Detroit, a day “to inspire conscious consumerism and show how an everyday purchase can change the life of a whole community. We are featuring fair trade and eco-friendly brands and inviting other businesses to take a step towards sustainability, “ she says.
Next door to Flo is the Spiral Collective (4201 Cass Ave), home to the Dell Pryor Gallery and Tulani Rose. The building’s taciturn exterior belies the beguiling atmosphere within. Upon entering, the delightful aromas of handmade soaps and exotic incense lure the shopper into a tranquil state. Mother and daughter, Dell (the gallery director) and Sharon Pryor (owner Tulani Rose), are happy to engage customers in a conversation about art, designer socks or politics.
A yelp reviewer exclaimed, “Last minute Christmas gifts shopping, wow! Spiral Collective saved my life as they did before with most of my friends’ birthday gifts. They are simply awesome. Spiral Collective is the jewelry of Midtown.” Tulani Rose will have selected items (aromatic candles, vegan leather goods, Detroit-themed merchandise and hand-crafted gift items) discounted for SBS.
The Source Booksellers recently moved from the Spiral Collective building into its own brick-and-mortar location on Cass Ave. Owner Janet Jones enthusiastically shepherds her clientele through the intimate process of book-buying. In a short time, she manages to engage every person shopping in the store in a one-on-one conversation, in which organically, almost magically, they reveal reams about themselves.
Seamlessly, she guides each person to the section that perfectly matches their own particular interests. As each customer gets wrapped into the world she has opened for them, shy and gregarious customers alike begin their own conversations with each other.
Jones is not just passionate about books and her shoppers, she is an advocate for authors as well. On SBS from 12-5 p.m., she has invited six local self-published writers (or their relatives) to come present, discuss and sell their books. The books range in content from a children’s book to a book about Joe Louis and the 1935 Detroit Tigers; from Michael Hamlin’s “A Black Revolutionary’s Life in Labor” to Harlan Jones et al.’s “Conant Gardens: A Black Urban Community 1925-1950.” Additionally, in conjunction with a Pure Detroit SBS initiative, Source will be offering 10 percent off merchandise store-wide as will other local retailers, City Bird, Nest, Hugh Nora, Human and Run Detroit.
Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion is also dressing up in its holiday finest. Jo’s Gallery at 19376 Livernois Ave. is busy preparing their own SBS event. Supplementing their offerings of fine art, framing, hand made furniture, Christmas cards and ornaments, Jo’s is bringing in local jewelry makers for a “Jewelry Trunk Show” on Nov. 30.
Chris Allen, Jo’s master framer, has been working with the gallery for 18 years. He personalizes every frame job, spending time with his clients not only finding the best frame for their piece or to match the décor of their home, but teaching them about art as well. Allen recounted how a customer had bought a single piece of art from the gallery decades ago, and was able to sell it with enough profit to pay for the cost of two of his childrens’ college tuition. Jo’s also carries Detroit artists’ work, helping to ensure that value is kept in every facet of the community. Currently Jo’s carries work by Mumford graduate LaShun Beal, Ron Scarborough, Troy Weaver, Dr. Watson, and Babacar Lo, originally from Senegal, now residing in the Motor City. Selected items in Jo’s Gallery will be marked down 10-30 percent.
Right down the street, Chase Majors’ store The Local Collective (19131 Livernois Ave.) wasn’t open last SBS. His store is less than a year old and Majors’ mother and father, Vita and jazz legend Albert Majors, owned music stores. Majors, 23, has inherited their entrepreneurial spirit. He hadn’t heard of SBS, but immediately decided to expand his Black Friday deals (50 percent off all merchandise) to 40 percent off all merchandise for SBS.
The Local Collective specializes in hand-detailed hats, matching materials (gator, leather, even wood veneer), colors and logos to not only the wearer’s specific tastes but to their specific outfits. He makes every one of his products by hand. His tiny workshop in the back of the store shows signs of his fevered, but expert process.
When customers come for in special orders, “I tell them to wait 15-30 minutes,” Majors told the Michigan Citizen confidently. In that short span of time, he can craft anything his customers want.
Majors is hopeful Black Friday and SBS will help him pull through the challenges of being a first-year business owner. “It’s not easy,” he said. “Last year, I was on the news for being in the streets. This (business) has helped me to change my life around.”
Businesses and consumers can learn more about SBS at shopsmall.com, Fair Tuesday at fairtuesday.org, or the Detroit Small Business Passport at puredetroit.com.