While the founders of Sauk Valley Shop Small know it can be difficult to quantify their ongoing goal of boosting awareness of small local businesses, some numbers are coming in to confirm that the Small Business Saturday event held Nov. 30 was a big success.
Janna Groharing, a co-founder and executive director of Sterling Main Street, said 21 of 40 participating businesses have responded to a follow-up survey that compared sales and foot traffic from this year’s and last year’s events.
“We had an excellent response,” Groharing said. “Sales were up, foot traffic was up, and so is community awareness of shopping local.”
The survey showed that 67 percent of the respondents reported increased sales, while 30 percent said sales were about the same as during last November’s Small Business Saturday. The poll, done through SurveyMonkey, showed that more than 70 percent of the respondents saw increased foot traffic from last year.
Even more exciting, many of the small retailers say, is that the momentum from that single day appears to be carrying over into December.
The holiday shopping season is critical for retailers. November and December business is expected to drive annual sales to the tune of 20 percent to 40 percent.
Jackie Payne, owner of Bushel Basket Candle Co. in Sterling, said Nov. 30 was one of the biggest days she’s had since opening in 2001.
“Last year, I think the event was just getting established, but this year was amazing,” Payne said. “We doubled what we did last November. The day after people were outside the store waiting for us to open, and so far, we’re still up 12 percent from last December.”
Small business owners are starting to see more tangible signs of the Shop Small message taking root in the collective mindset.
“Many people – some that I had never seen come in before – made a point of saying that they were doing their holiday shopping with small local merchants this year instead of the big-box stores,” Payne said.
Payne’s merchandise also has a local flavor. In addition to candles, she carries a wide range of country-influenced home decor items. She says 85 to 90 percent of her inventory is handmade by the 30 local artists who contribute to her inventory.
Some of Payne’s most popular holiday gift items this year are plug-in warmers, Christmas decor items, mittens made from wool sweaters, and signs of all kinds.
The timing of Shop Small Saturday couldn’t have been much better for Roxie’s owner Amy Fenwick.
Fenwick, a Dixon native from a retail family, opened her boutique filled with an eclectic mix of new, used and vintage merchandise on Sept. 27. The Shop Small Saturday event helped her hit the ground running.
“The timing was great,” Fenwick said. “We had people in open to close, and it was my best day to date.”
Retail is in Fenwick’s blood. Her mother owned Quality Resale in Dixon for 13 years. But because she is a first-time entrepreneur, Fenwick appreciates the resources available through Sauk Valley Shop Small.
“Their Facebook page is frequently updated and I can always reach out to Lisa [Higby LeFevre] for help or ideas,” Fenwick said. Higby LeFevre, co-owner of Dixon’s Distinctive Gardens, is the other founder of the Shop Small alliance.
One of those ideas was to carry select merchandise from other local retailers. Roxie’s now carries items from Sterling’s Tuff Dog Bakery and Oregon Soap Shop.
Fenwick says she is emphasizing under $10 items that make great stocking stuffers for the holidays. Soaps, lotions and handmade jewelry have been popular gift items, she says.
At Golden Key Gifts in Sterling, sales were up 25 percent from last year’s Small Business Saturday, said owner Terry Bright.
“Christmas season has been good both years,” Bright said. “I think the message is catching on.”
Golden Key Gifts, open since 1998, has home decor gifts for all occasions, but Christmas Santas, ornaments and his wife’s homemade bows are big sellers this time of year. Bright says lanterns have been big this year because they are easy to decorate for all seasons.
Sauk Valley Shop Small has been a big asset to the entire community, Bright said.
“The LeFevres and Janna have been great helping small business people out,” he said. “People are starting to understand that corporate money goes to corporations, and we’re keeping more of the money here in town.”
Visit saukvalleyshopsmall.org for more information about the organization.