With lingering supply chain issues and staffing difficulties sparing no industry, small businesses are hoping that the annual call to “shop small” resonates even more this holiday season.
Initial indications are that could be true, if one business’ recent open house serves as any example.
On the first Thursday of every November, Marilyn Park hosts an open house for her Zazu Gifts store in Ashburn. While usually hosting the open house as an evening cocktail party, Park switched to an appointment-style format last year, to keep customers spaced out because of the coronavirus. After an overwhelmingly positive response to that format, she continued it this year, and noted it was her best sales ever for her open house.
Open since 2003, Zazu markets itself as a unique gift shop with personalized service. It’s that appeal to local customers that has had staying power, and has helped Park survive economic challenges, not the least of which is a global pandemic, since she bought the store in 2015. Park said she purposely chooses not to offer items that consumers could find at any mall, and has navigated supply chain issues by finding different products that are available. She also did a large order to prepare for the fourth-quarter holiday shopping season in the early summer to allow for extended delivery times.
Park’s experience is similar to the community love felt by Deb Schaffer of Enchanted Botanicals in Lovettsville as loyal customers turn out to keep her business humming. Just this week, as she returned from a conference out of town, she came home to a slew of online orders as her customers begin ticking off their holiday shopping lists. Using Schaffer’s training as an herbalist, Enchanted Botanicals offers a plethora of products ideal for personal use or gifts, like candles, bath salts, energy spray and crystals.
“I’ve always had a somewhat robust website but when things got shut down [because of the pandemic] it was like people were going out of their way to support small businesses. Even over this weekend nearly every single order came in with a note,” of appreciation, she said. “We’re truly all in this together. People have really stepped up.”
Even those at the local government level are calling on residents to support small businesses this holiday season, with the Town of Leesburg issuing a press release for that very reason. The press release points out the economic impact of shopping small—$48 of every $100 spent at a small business stays in the local economy. When you spend the same $100 at a national retailer the amount is only $14, according to the Small Business Administration.
The town has even dedicated a portion of its website to a directory for local small business, leesburgva.gov/businesses/shopleesburg.
Many businesses are banding together to support each other. Leah Fallon, who launched her Birch Tree Books business in Leesburg earlier this year, knows a thing or two about the benefit of businesses supporting each other. Her book shop is co-located in Cowbell Kitchen and The Corner Store, and collaborates on events or pop-ups with other local businesses.
“These aren’t things big-box stores and Amazon do. I can tell you, small business owners do a little dance after every sale—your won’t get that reaction by clicking ‘Buy Now’,” she said.
In her role as co-founder of Loudoun Shops Black, a website that provides a directory of local Black-owned businesses and encourages community support, Fallon also is helping to organize the first LSB holiday market in December. The event is put on in partnership with the NAACP of Loudoun, and will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at The Pavilion at BeanTree in Ashburn.
“We wanted to provide another opportunity for the community to find new, small businesses to support this holiday season. We hope this is a chance for businesses to find new clients, sell products and network for growth and greater reach in and around Loudoun. If it goes well, keep your eyes open for more events throughout the year,” Fallon said.
Bear Chase Brewing in Bluemont also is hoping to bring out more support for local businesses, and support their own business in the process, with their second annual Old World Christmas Market this Saturday during Small Business Saturday. General Manager Chris Suarez said the number of vendors has almost doubled in size this year, with up to 30 expected for Saturday’s event.
“It’s really a good twofold for us. It gives guests something to do other than look at our amazing view and taste beverages, it gets them shopping. It creates good success for both of us,” he said.
Gautham Vadakkepatt, associate professor of marketing in George Mason University’s School of Business, said it is a good opportunity this holiday season for small businesses to capitalize in a set of unique circumstances.
“Smaller retailers are generally more agile and nimble, and so might be able to react faster to changing circumstances than the larger retailers. Due to generally expected shortages, smaller retailers might also see more people visit their stores or websites seeking substitutes or alternatives for gifts. Thus, there is an increased opportunity for smaller retailers to win over customers,” he said.