Metro Detroit stores embrace Small Business Saturday

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News
Kyle Huntoon has been handcrafting hundreds of items at Hunt & Noyer Woodworks, one of 30 business owners and vendors who will be at BUILD Bizarre, a holiday market of sorts that is part of Small Business Saturday, at the D:hive in Downtown Detroit.

Kyle Huntoon is used to taking as much as a month to complete one of his custom-designed wooden furniture pieces for a client.

Now, the owner of the fledgling Detroit business Hunt & Noyer Woodworks is hard at work handcrafting hundreds of smaller accessories and products ahead of Small Business Saturday on Nov. 29.

"It's a lot different to sell hundreds of one thing instead of a few large items," he said of the custom beer and wine holders he is making in droves. "Building these things is fun because you get to see that immediate product."

Huntoon is among about 30 local business owners and vendors who will be selling their products at the BUILD Bizarre, a holiday market of sorts, that will be held at the D:hive in Downtown Detroit. He is also one of thousands of business owners across the region offering unique products and deals to mark the day that is all about patronizing local shops and buying locally. And it's a completely different experience than the Black Friday madness that sweeps big box stores and malls the day before.

"There is a different subset of people who want to see unique items and support people in their community and buy American made products," said Huntoon. "They're not the people going after the flatscreen TV deal. They are the people who want to see something special that has a story to it."

That market for the shop-local experience is growing more and more each year.

Hunt & Noyer Woodworks products include custom beer carriers. D:hive’s event will connect shoppers and business owners.

Last year alone, consumers spent more than $5.7 billion in small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, said retail analyst and Small Business Saturday spokeswoman Nicole Leinbach Reyhle.

"Small Business Saturday truly is the celebratory kick-off to the holiday season," she said.

Optimism is increasing, according to American Express OPEN's 2014 Small Business Holiday Monitor. Of the 505 businesses surveyed, 36 percent said they expected their holiday sales to be strong this season, up from 22 percent last year.

To be sure, many small businesses have been doing their own holiday-themed sales on Small Business Saturday for decades, and some stores have even banded together. But the concept of Small Business Saturday really got its footing after American Express got involved in 2010 as a major sponsor, said Leinbach Reyhle.

"It's big to have something so nationally recognized powered by a company like American Express that can afford to do commercials and other things," she said. "These companies can leverage this type of media attention and can lean on it to (increase) their sales."

For the folks at D:hive, the day is a chance to connect the local entrepreneurs they instruct through the BUILD Institute with customers who happy to are "keep their cash in the community.

"They're coming for an alternative experience," said April Boyle, director of small business initiatives for D:hive.

"It's a return to customer service and talking to the owner, getting to know the people behind the businesses," added Jeanette Pierce, executive director of the Detroit Experience Factory with D:hive, which will provide customers with bus shuttle service to shopping districts at five locations in Midtown, New Center and Eastern Market.

The environment for small businesses in the state got a significant lift when the Michigan Business Tax was abolished, said Amanda Fisher, assistant state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses Michigan office. Most of those tax breaks went to small businesses, she said.

As for Small Business Saturday, last year 73 percent of local business owners polled said they were aware of the national effort.

"Black Friday really does belong to the Big Box stores," said Fisher. "On that Saturday, you don't see the lines and people getting into fights going into a small business."

Chuck Kessler, owner of Kessler and Associates CPA firm in Farmington Hills, appreciates the atmosphere at the local restaurants and shops that he frequents. So much so, that he does most of his shopping year round at small businesses, for everything from clothing and groceries to jewelry and electronics. He'll make most of his holiday purchases with them as well.

"I'm a local business owner myself and even though we're smaller than big national CPA firms, we can do the same thing," the West Bloomfield resident said. "When people come to us, they may not be thinking they are supporting local businesses, but they are."

Many municipal downtown development authorities or other business-boosting local organizations are embracing that attitude as well, and putting their own spin on Small Business Saturday.

For example, in Northville, the Downtown Development Authority is offering free gift wrapping services in the town center. After customers meet with Santa and make their purchases at the 60-plus locally owned stores — all of which are holding their own deals and specials — they can get their items wrapped for free, although donations will be accepted.

"We were trying to come up with something unique," said Christa Williams, marketing and communications coordinator for the Northville DDA. "It adds to the experience when you come into town."

In Dearborn, many of the local shops, restaurants and other businesses are offering their own deals. In addition, the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce is offering shoppers an additional incentive: a $25 American Express gift card if they spent at least $100 at any of the 224 participating businesses, including dentists offices, pharmacies and cafes. Come Monday morning, the first 25 people who come in to the Chamber of Commerce with their receipts showing they spent locally will get the gift cards, which were donated by American Express to help promote the day.

"I think this is a great way to recognize the small businesses. I believe it takes, as anything else in life, a balance," said Wendy Fichter, director of small business development for the chamber. "While I do love going and shopping at big box stores on Black Friday, I also like supporting the local businesses."

In Birmingham, many business owners have been offering deals on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a long time. This year, the Birmingham Principle Shopping District is promoting the sales even more by offering a passport incentive. Customers can receive stamps in a passport for every business they shop at and when they are done, they can turn them in at Astreins Creative Jewelers to receive a voucher for a treat.

The person with the most stamps will get two airline tickets to anywhere in the U.S.

It's all part of the friendly downtown atmosphere the city is offering, which includes free parking and other extras, said Executive Director John Heiney.

"Shopping in a downtown environment is much a much more relaxed and enjoyable time," said Heiney. "We'll have carolers out on the street, a Santa house, carriage rides."

Rachael A-Woods, owner of downtown Birmingham specialty gift store Artloft, knows just how important Small Business Saturday can be to her bottom line. That's why she is offering 20 percent off on two popular houseware lines that never go on sale and 25 percent off on all clothing items, many of which are imported from Europe and Africa.

"The customers love when we tell them where the things come from," said A-Woods, who has been in business 17 years. "It's very unique and very functional art."

She's been participating in Small Business Saturday for the last nine years, and she's always looking to turn a first-time shopper into a regular.

"We talk to you, find out what you're looking for and help, so you really get that warm experience," said A-Woods. "That's how you survive. I don't care how good your merchandise is, if you don't have good customer service, forget it."

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