How to Make Your Small Business Saturday Event Successful: Insights from the City of Portland Little Boxes

How to Make Your Small Business Saturday Event Successful: Insights from the City of Portland Little Boxes

Small Business Saturday was created in 2010 by American Express as a way to give small and local retailers more exposure during the holiday season. Black Friday had been around for years and was always a hit for large retailers, but the idea was to create a special day where customers were urged to shop small and appreciate their local businesses.

If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing how Small Business Saturday started out as a concept and has grown to be embraced by such a large and diverse group of small businesses around the country in just a few years. In 2014, $14.3 billion was spent on Small Business Saturday and, with a growing number of communities joining the cause, Small Business Saturday 2015 is expected to be even bigger.

The official American Express Small Business Saturday page has a list of hundreds of neighborhoods and businesses in every state that are banding together to rally their communities this Small Business Saturday. If you’re thinking of starting a Small Business Saturday event, you could probably use some tips on how to make your event successful. For that, we turn to the City of Portland Little Boxes event that has been growing strong since 2011.

City of Portland Little Boxes Small Business Saturday Event

Little Boxes is an event in the City of Portland that was started by Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich, owners of a local jewelry brand called betsy & iya. In 2011 they wanted to shine a spotlight on Portland’s many small shops, so they started Little Boxes as an event that would promote shopping at these small businesses on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. The event involves a diverse group of small shops coming together to promote a single message – to support Portland by shopping small. Over the years it has grown steadily, and in 2015 there are over 200 small businesses participating, with record-breaking profits predicted.

Make Your Small Business Saturday Event Successful: What We Can Learn From Little Boxes

Little Boxes is an excellent example of how a well-executed Small Business Saturday event can mean great things for everyone involved. Here are some specific things we can learn about creating a successful event:

1 – Small Business Saturday is stronger when everyone comes together.

Yes, any individual shop can participate in Small Business Saturday by promoting their own event, but when people come together, it can be HUGE. The more stores involved, the bigger buzz you can create. The event also focuses on unifying the shops for an overall message to Shop Small by offering shoppers a 10% discount at all other shops once they make their first purchase at one of the participating businesses. This cross-promotional offer means shoppers are more likely to stop at multiple small businesses throughout the two day event.

2 – Don’t forget local advertising & social media.

Small Business Saturday is all about YOUR community, so don’t forget to promote locally – both in local media and online. Capitalizing on numbers, Little Boxes collects money from all participating shops which then gives the event more ad-buying power in the local media. Also, since each store is encouraged to promote the event on social media, word-of-mouth reach and overall buzz is magnified across dozens of social media sites.

3 – Embrace technology.

Technology can be intimidating for small businesses, but pooling talent, skills and resources from a number of small businesses in your area can allow you to compete with the big guys when it comes to technology. Little Boxes has its own website where people can get more information, including downloadable, printable maps of all participating neighborhoods. They’ve even jumped on the app trend and created iPhone and Android apps that list and sort the participating stores by neighborhood and category.

4 – Make your event interactive.

You could say that shopping is already an interactive event, but Little Boxes has upped the level of interaction by making the event a game where people can win prizes. To encourage people to explore small local businesses, they give one free raffle entry for anyone who just walks through the door of a participating store. There are also bonus raffle entries depending on the number of purchases you make.

It’s important to note that Little Boxes has made this game fun for everyone. While you can collect and enter raffle codes with the smartphone app, they also allow the non-app-savvy to write codes down and enter them online.

5 – Make your event memorable.

Little Boxes is a perfectly designed event that makes a lasting, emotional impression on shoppers in the Portland area. It has become a Portland tradition, and people look forward to the event all year long. The Little Boxes social media channels have over 8,500 combined followers, and buzz is spread among the 339,000+ combined fans and followers of all the participating stores. With over 200 local shops to explore, hundreds of prizes to win, and the opportunity to see Portland like never before, Little Boxes is a truly memorable event.

Of course an event like Little Boxes doesn’t pop up overnight, but its success should give you ideas for planning your own Small Business Saturday event in the future. Little Boxes is proof that great things can be achieved when small business owners band together.

Feature Image courtesy of the Little Boxes Who We Are page:

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