Black Friday is quickly approaching and that means big box retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Toys “R” Us are ready to unleash a tsunami of sales, opening their doors, in many cases, before the Thanksgiving leftovers are even put away. With those hefty discounts and pre-dawn hours—not to mention multi-million dollar advertising campaigns to herald this shopping event—how can small businesses compete with their bigger rivals?
The key, say retailing experts—and small businesses alike—is to highlight different strengths, not go head to head with the big guys. “Trying to play the price game on Black Friday is a losing proposition for any small business,” says Jim Blasingame, host of The Small Business Advocate, a nationally syndicated radio program dedicated to small business issues. A better strategy for smaller retailers, he suggests, is to let customers know via emails and Facebook in the weeks leading up to the big day why they can have a better and less stressful shopping experience in your store. “Focus on what you sell and the better customer service you can deliver on Black Friday,” he says. That’s something the big guys can’t offer their customers on a day that’s become a “feeding frenzy,” Blasingame adds.
Indeed, in 2011, sales on Black Friday alone reached a record-breaking $11.4 billion, according to ShopperTrak. And this year, the National Retail Federation is forecasting even better numbers for the entire holiday season, with sales estimated to increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion. That’s higher than the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent. So, here are some tips to help your small business share in all that holiday retail cheer:
Do your own thing
Yes, it’s true: there is a significant segment of the population that enjoys getting up in the dark, waiting on line with strangers, and then blasting through the doors of their favorite big retailer at 5 a.m. with all the finesse of an NFL linebacker. Then there are other shoppers who don’t. That’s where your business comes in. Think about what attracts customers to your store in the first place, what keeps them loyal—and then offer that on Black Friday.
Mark Edge, owner of the Soccer Post in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, says he’ll use Black Friday to reinforce his store’s long-standing reputation with customers as the destination shop for all things soccer. “All the local clubs know we have the items they need so there’s no rush about getting here on one particular day,” he says. While he may email a coupon to customers, offering a small discount on certain apparel items, he’s convinced that Black Friday is far more important to the big box retailers than to small businesses. “For us, it marks the beginning of the holiday selling season, not a day where we see a significant spike in sales,” he acknowledges. By focusing on great customer service, a deep selection of soccer gear and apparel, and a knowledgeable sales staff, Edge believes he keeps customers loyal all year—not just for one day.
Offer a nicer experience
Is a deeply discounted plasma TV as enjoyable if you’ve had to wait on line for an hour in an over-heated store stocked with sleep-deprived salespeople? Blasingame says smaller retailers have the opportunity to offer an attractive alternative on Black Friday by creating a welcoming and less frenzied shopping experience.
At Green Gates Gifts in Hampton, Virginia, Joseph Dusewicz offers customers coffee and donuts when the store opens its doors at 5 a.m. Because it’s located in the Hampton Towne Center, an outdoor mall that also features Macy’s and J.C. Penney, Dusewicz says the landlord requires that all tenants be open by at least 6 a.m. on Black Friday. “The folks who come in at 5 a.m. are more geared towards getting the best deals,” he says, noting that Green Gates emails coupons to loyal customers in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and posts them on its Facebook page. “By 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. we start to see more of our regular customers.” And unlike many of the door-buster sales at the bigger retailers that are in effect only for those early morning hours, Dusewicz says Green Gates deals are typically good throughout the day. “Our customers don’t have to stress out about getting to us by a certain time,” he says. “We try to make the day as enjoyable as possible.”
Celebrate Black Friday the whole week, the whole year
There’s no rule that says Black Friday deals have to happen only on the day after Thanksgiving. Ed Veneziano, second-generation owner of Cato’s Army & Navy Store in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, says his family’s goal since opening the store in 1975 is to offer reasonable prices every day. “We’re not in a mall and about 90 percent of our business is from local customers so we’ve never wanted them to think they had to hit a sale on a certain day or they would be out of luck,” he says. “We’ve built this business by offering fair prices every day.”
On Black Friday, Veneziano says he’ll offer a few give-aways, such as free baseball hats provided by some of his larger vendors, but beyond that he plans to steer clear of gimmicks and special one-day discounts. “We’ve been in business for over 35 years,” Veneziano says. “And like most smaller retailers, we attract customers because we offer something they can’t get in the mall and we provide good customer service.” As most small businesses will discover this Black Friday, that selling strategy works every day of the year.