Even though some stores set out garland and gift wrap not long after they’ve put their last barbecue grills on clearance, the holiday shopping season is officially considered to last from Thanksgiving until Christmas (at least for now, until the retail creep completely eliminates Thanksgiving’s existence). The rush of Black Friday kicks the season off, the click-fest that is Cyber Monday soon follows, and in between, there’s Small Business Saturday.

Started in 2010, Small Business Saturday is a kind of hybrid awareness day/shopping bonanza. The goal is to encourage shoppers to take some of the money they plan to spend on holiday gifts and spend it at a small shop instead of a large retail outlet. This, the thinking goes, serves to encourage budding entrepreneurs, stimulate local economies, and even kick a few tax benefits into the nearby community.

The stats show that it might be working. In 2013, shoppers in the U.S. spent $5.7 billion at independent merchant shops on Small Business Saturday alone. That was up from $5.5 billion in 2012, a pretty astounding feat considering that 2013’s holiday shopping season was six days shorter.

Would people have spent that much money on the Saturday after Thanksgiving if Small Business Saturday hadn’t been established? It’s hard to say, but Small Business Saturday definitely has gained awareness. American Express (the company that came up with the concept of SBS) released the following statistic:

In November [2013] alone, more than 352,000 tweets were sent in support of Small Business Saturday, many using the hashtags #SmallBizSat and #ShopSmall, a 65% increase from the previous year.

-Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey

So. People are paying attention to Small Business Saturday. You might want some of that attention on your small business. No matter what kind of company you run, having a special giveaway or in-store event that day is a great way to get it! And promo products can be a creative part of Small Business Saturday, as several entrepreneurs have discovered. We hope you get inspired by what they’re doing!

Small Business Saturday: The Retailer with a Store Front

The tiny retail shop sitting somewhere on Main Street is probably what most people think of when they imagine a small business. Of course, these days, a person’s favorite local store is just as likely to occupy a loft space in a major metropolitan area, or a building near the interstate in middle America, as that store front in Smalltown.

The Scrubz holiday giveaway tree
Scrubz Holiday Giveaway Tree

No matter where business owners set up shop, they’re probably going to find customers who like free giveaways. Roberta Perry is the founder of Scrubz Body Scrub, a natural skin care products company with a store in Bethpage, New York. While she sells her wares wholesale to outlets like Whole Foods Market, she also encourages people to come visit her store, especially on Small Business Saturday. “Yes, it follows Black Friday, and comes two days before Cyber Monday, but there is something special about celebrating small business owners,” she says.

How is she celebrating? One way is with a giveaway. Perry has constructed a small tree that will hold free sample of her products. Each sample jar will come with a piece of paper with the name of one of the store’s products on it. Whatever product a customer draws, the customer will win it for free.

Scrubz Pen

And when customers check out at the register, every one of them will be given a custom branded pen, a useful item to remind them how to order more if they like what they’ve bought that day!

Small Business Saturday: The Online Retailer

But you don’t have to set foot inside a store to support a small business on Small Business Saturday. Erika Kerekes, the Condiment Queen (best job title ever) and CEO of Not Ketchup, creates artisan fruit-based sauces and sells her goods largely online.

Not Ketchup T-shirt

Kerekes launched the business in January 2014, so she’s preparing for her first holiday shopping season. She’s also getting ready to use several kinds of promotional products to drive online sales on Small Business Saturday and the days around it. From Black Friday through Cyber Monday, she’ll be giving away a free tea towel and basting brush with a purchase of a four-pack of  Not Ketchup from the site. She also plans on offering “holiday hostess packages” that include a four-bottle sampler plus the choice of a screen-printed apron, a screen-printed t-shirt, or an embroidered cap, all featuring the Not Ketchup logo.

Not Ketchup Basting Brushes and Tea Towels
Not Ketchup’s tea towels and basting brushes

Careful planning went into Kerekes’ choice of promotional items. “I wanted items that made sense given what I do (food products) and that would likely appeal to my customer base,” she says via e-mail. “I also looked for items that were color-coordinated with my logo and brand colors. That’s why the basting brush and tea towels are red and white.”

So Kerekes items that fit with her business. As an added bonus for this time of year, the red and white items and logo look rather Christmas-y, don’t ya think?

Small Business Saturday: The Business Owner Who’s Stepping Out

Entrepreneurs don’t have to be tied to their storefronts or glued to their computer screens to reach out to customers on Small Business Saturday, though.

Swift Trave Deals Keychain

Ileaa Swift, the owner of Arkansas-based global travel agency Swift Travel Deals, has assembled a street team for the occasion. Her plan is to target new customers at local shopping centers on Small Business Saturday, distributing items like custom keychains, postcards, and informational marketing materials to everyone she can.

Swift Travel Deals Mug

She also hopes to set up a booth at one of the venues she’s targeting or partner with another local business for an informational event. This would help with Phase Two of her plan: to give away more substantial items, like branded coffee mugs and hoodies, to people who sign up on the spot for her Travel With a Purpose Program or Travel Referral Program, or who request travel gift certificates.

As Swift demonstrates, you don’t have be at your business to promote your business with custom items on Small Business Saturday!

Small Business Saturday: The Non-Retail Businesses

In fact, you don’t even have to own a retail business to make the most of the day.

Jason Parks, the owner of digital marketing agency The Media Captain, is about to host his second Small Business Saturday event. “For Small Business Saturday, we will be inviting our clients, their friends and perspective [sic] clients and their friends to our office location in downtown Columbus,” he says. “We will be conducting a 30-minute ‘learning session’ on digital marketing while using the remainder of the time to nosh, drink and mingle with new acquaintances.”

The Media Captain's Custom Apparel
The Media Captain’s custom apparel

To build on what The Media Captain did last year, this year, Parks and his staff will be giving away branded apparel—t-shirts and sweatshirts—to anyone participating in the event. “We didn’t give away the apparel [last year] but we were able to get one new client from the event and an existing client added on a new suite of services. We’re hopeful by giving away some awesome swag, we will be able to build on the momentum from last year.”

He also suspects that promotional products will benefit his business as much as they will his clients. “By having a giveaway on site with our logo, it will not only help draw people into our event,” he says, “it will help with brand awareness from new people wearing our apparel.” That’s the goal!

Going to a Pilates class definitely isn’t the same as planning a digital marketing strategy, but it’s certainly not a bad idea for those days following Massive Food Coma Day, more commonly known as Thanksgiving. That’s what Leah Marsh, owner of Pilates X Studio in Long Beach, California, is hoping.

Pilates X Studio Shop Small Tote
The “Shop Small” tote being given away at Pilates X

On Small Business Saturday, Marsh and the other trainers at Pilates X will be offering free exercise classes. Not only that, but Pilates X also is participating in American Express’s Neighborhood Champion program, a program that any small business can register for. The program provides business owners with event kits for Small Business Saturday; this year’s kit includes tote bags with a design from artist Rebecca Mink that reads, “Shop Small.”

“All local business leaders need to do is apply to be a community leader to distribute the bags,” says Marsh. By signing up for the program, Pilates X received a free giveaway item that’s ideal to represent the business. After all, why wear your workout clothes home when you can carry them in a nice, new tote? And if you should happen to want to fill your tote bag instead with some of the merchandise that Pilates X and other small businesses offer, well, I’m not sure they’d be sad about that.

* * *

As you can see, the ways that you can use promotional products to draw customers in on Small Business Saturday are nearly endless—almost as endless as the selection of products out there. How can you choose the right item for you?

Erika Kerekes, Not Ketchup’s condiment queen, has some helpful advice:

Think about how much you’re willing to spend and what these items are going to help you do. In my case, I am hoping they will motivate people to order Not Ketchup as a gift for their friends and family. And don’t get things that are too holiday-oriented, because if you don’t end up using them you’ll be stuck with them until next year. I can hand out basting brushes all year long.

-Erika Kerekes, Not Ketchup

And if that doesn’t give you some guidance, you can always call QLP’s customer service representatives. They’re here to help you figure out the best way to promote your business—well, except that they might not be here on Small Business Saturday. Then, they might be out shopping.

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