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For local shops, Small Business Saturday is just the beginning

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/29/12/04/1kUbBl.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Janos Castro - COURTESY OF JANOS CASTRO
    Despicable Me 2 items are popular at Pineville party supply store Red Party Hat, according to owner Janos Castro.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/29/12/04/1vg0z8.Em.138.jpeg|416
    - GUAVA LOVE FOODS
    Guava Love Foods, a spread made from the tropical fruit, comes in four flavors: Almond, cinnamon, lemon ginger and coconut lime.

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How much are you spending this holiday season compared with last year?

While local merchants hope their special offers pay off big on Small Business Saturday, owners are focusing beyond the one day.

An event created in 2010 to help draw customers, Saturday’s shop small efforts are expected to generate big sales nationally. Consumers aware of Small Business Saturday in 2012 spent $5.5 billion with independent merchants, according to the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express.

Many Charlotte-area merchants are enrolled in an AmEx promotion giving consumers a $10 credit for shopping Saturday at a small business.

But to compete against the big stores and online retailers this holiday season, owners say they must tout what’s special about them compared to the big box stores and online retailers. Here are some ways small shops and retailers are trying to get your attention this holiday season:

Being flexibile: When a customer at his Pineville party supply store, Red Party Hat, requested Dallas Cowboys-themed decorations, owner Janos Castro placed a special order for balloon bouquets.

“I react to my customers, and I help them as much as I can,” said Castro, who pitches his personalized approach to local restaurants in need of supplies. In addition to the AmEx program, Castro is also offering extra loyalty card points to customers on Saturday.

Offering free samples: Supporters of Guava Love Foods, a spread made from the tropical fruit, plan to distribute sampling sticks by the hundreds at a Shop Micro Local pop-up store at 1320 S. Church St. in South End.

“I want as many people to sample it, because they’re going to love it,” said founder Caroline Starnes.

And then, hopefully, buy. Organizers say free tastings will be a big part of the one-day-only shopping event highlighting locally-made food products, from fish cakes to truffles. Gift baskets featuring local food products will be on sale.

Featuring local artists: Okra, a yoga studio in Plaza Midwood, includes a retail shop featuring items by Charlotte artists sold on consignment, owner Alicia Roskind said. Offerings include jewelry, lotions and soaps, and therapeutic eye pillows. Okra also has a coffee and tea lounge with beverages and products from Charlotte-based coffee roaster Pure Intentions Roasting Co., and TEA ReX tea, which is packed in Charlotte.

Customers “know where their money is going. ... The money is staying here in Charlotte,” Roskind said. On Saturday, Okra will feature 20 percent off prepared teas and coffees.

Providing strong customer service: Married owners of Salts of the Earth, which sells more than 170 gourmet and specialty salts from around the world, love sharing stories about the history of their products with customers. Customers enjoy the connection, said co-owner Donna Aveni.

“We have the passion, the interesting facts,” Aveni said. “We deal with them on a personal level, which is missing from corporate America.” Co-owner Keith Warner also said they pride themselves on shipping out Internet orders within 24 hours – and including free samples with orders so customers can try their products. The business, located in 7th Street Public Market in uptown, is offering 10 percent off Christmas gift boxes and collections on Saturday.

Promoting convenience: Free parking and admission is a big promotion point for Saturday’s Winter Wonderland handmade gifts show featuring nearly 100 sellers at Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, and the food-producer pop-up shop in South End. Merchants inside the 7th Street Public Market talk up the free 90-minute deck parking and the market’s location at a Lynx light rail stop.

Offering special bonuses: Roots, which goes by the tagline “Good.Local.Food,” plans to award four people a cooking class during a raffle at its Atherton Market breakfast service on Saturday. What began as a food truck has expanded to include full-service catering and the cooking classes, said Kim Miner, who handles marketing. She said the raffle is a chance to thank customers who eat with them all the time.

Being different: Helen Cathey runs two small niche shops under one roof in Mint Hill. Stitch Traders, featuring cross stitch products, and Near and Far Scottish, with items tied to Scottish and Celtic heritage, don’t typically draw the general population looking for Small Business Saturday specials.

Cathey said she drew more customer traffic throughout December last year, as people in town for the holidays and repeat customers sought out her business. Regulars this time of year include a husband and wife who pick out a cross stitch pattern and products as a Christmas gift for his mother.

“We rely mainly on folks who are looking for unique gifts and those people usually come into the store after all of the gigantic sales are going on at all of the big-box stores,” Cathey said by email.

Smith: 704 358-5087
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