Valentine's Day consumer spending is second only to Christmas (and followed by Mother's Day and Easter). But when it comes to gift giving, while Christmas may be about "the bigger the better," Valentine's Day is more about "it's the thought that counts." This is where small businesses can really show their stuff, NRF spokeswoman Kathy Grannis says. "A small business that sells novelty gift ideas, it's the perfect opportunity to get in on the action of how big the holiday is," she says. "The days of being silenced by big boxes are over. It's now very easy for small businesses to get a piece of the consumer spending pie. It comes down to variety, value and unique merchandise." Valentine's Day is also a big holiday for restaurants, from couples and families using the night for a meal out to those who want to stay home but don't want to cook. National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Annika Stensson says the holiday is likely to give restaurants a midweek boost, given that Valentine's Day is on a Tuesday this year. In addition, restaurant gift cards are a popular item for gift giving. Based on an informal poll last weekend, one-third of participants said they would like a restaurant gift card for the holiday. Yet small businesses need to know when and how to take advantage of these profitable times of year. Dalal says the most important thing for a small business is preparation -- well ahead of time -- and putting in place processes to catch sales as early as possible. "For a small-business owner it's very important to be proactive and to take advantage of these major holidays, because if you miss them they don't come again for another year. That's your lifeline," he says. Nestle Toll House Cafes have been draped in Valentine's decorations, and the stores have been heavily promoting pre-ordering for customized desserts to help alleviate the last-minute rush on Valentine's Day. "You have to be ready," Dalal says. "You have to have the cafe mood and all our point-of-purchase ... we plaster the holiday all over the cafe -- on the display case, on the walls. This message has to be communicated. If you don't do it by early January you're too late."
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