NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Black Friday kicks off the holiday-shopping season for big-box retailers, but independent stores are trying to take some wind out of their sales. American Express' ( AXP) Small Business Saturday campaign, designated as the Saturday after Thanksgiving, is contributing to a much-needed boost to the small-business economy. American Express situated the day smack in the middle of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to encourage consumers to "shop small." Now in its third year, the movement is gaining steam. And Small Business Saturday isn't just a marketing initiative. More than 200 advocacy groups, 60 public officials and 70 corporate partners have signed on to endorse the campaign, according to the Shop Small website. (Not surprisingly, there are no big-box retailers supporting their smaller counterparts.) "Small Business Saturday is not about American Express. We are giving them the tools to market themselves and the tools to create the day and really make it a local event in their community," says Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, senior vice president at American Express OPEN, its small-business resource center. American Express provides free tools and promotional material for all small businesses to incorporate in their marketing. Last year Facebook ( FB) joined the movement by partnering with AmEx to offer free advertising to small businesses to promote their products and services. The tools also allow businesses to incorporate a Twitter "Follow" button for their websites, create YouTube videos and Facebook pages and design a customized website through Yola. An estimated 103 million Americans shopped at independently owned businesses during last year's Small Business Saturday, ahead of the forecasted 89 million, including President Obama, who took his daughters on a shopping trip to an independent bookstore a few blocks from the White House. AmEx saw a 23% increase in American Express card transactions at small-business merchants on Small Business Saturday.
"Year one was about establishing the day -- putting it on the map. Year two was about creating greater awareness of the day and making it a part of the holiday shopping weekend. Year three is about getting small businesses to own the day and make it their own," Fitzmaurice Reilly says. The company hasn't released its projections on how many consumers it expects to shop small this year. According to the inaugural Small Business Saturday Insights Survey, conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express, 46% of independent merchants plan to incorporate Small Business Saturday into their holiday season marketing plans. The survey polled 500 owners/managers of retail establishments with physical storefronts, kiosks, and restaurants, bars and pubs that are not part of a franchise and had fewer than 100 employees (the vast majority having fewer than five employees). Eighty percent of those who plan to incorporate the campaign into marketing materials expect a year-over-year sales boost on that day, the survey found. Independent We Stand, a nationwide movement encouraging consumers to shop local, is partnering with American Express for the second year to promote Small Business Saturday. "I think it's fantastic," says Independent We Stand's project manager Bill Brunelle. "We are encouraging every one of our 88,000 small-business members to participate. It's a huge media event and it does an excellent job at reminding consumers about the importance of supporting local, small businesses." However, the goal of the initiative is to make local businesses part of Americans' shopping plans every day of the year. Forty-six percent of respondents plan to create coupons or discounts on a future purchase that day. A majority of survey respondents say the initiative could be even bigger if more communities came together and hosted events around their small businesses. "My hope for Small Business Saturday is that ... it becomes a sustainable day
like Black Friday without promotion," AmEx's Fitzmaurice Reilly says. -- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York. Follow @LKulikowski To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com. >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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