Consumers flocked to the big-box retail stores around the country to take advantage of Black Friday deals. But small business owners in Douglas County would like to call your attention to another national shopping event that is more important to local economies.
Small Business Saturday, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was created in 2010 by American Express to encourage holiday shopping at small brick-and-mortar businesses.
In Sutherlin, where there are no large retail stores, the economy is dependent on the success of its local businesses. While people increasingly shop online — Cyber Monday is an online holiday shopping event held the Monday after Thanksgiving — business owners in Sutherlin said Small Business Saturday has become an important event for them to create regular customers and bring in new customers.
Four years ago, Renee Lillie moved her bath soaps business, Tub-Time Treasures, into a brick-and-mortar building in downtown Sutherlin after four years solely online.
She said the small business event is her busiest day of the year and crucial to her business’ growth. Last year, she sold $1,500 worth of her products, which she said is far more than a typical day.
Lillie is one of 16 business owners in the Sutherlin-Oakland area to participate in the event promoted by the Sutherlin Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s just as much us showing our appreciation for our customers that do shop small as it is for those customers who are shopping small showing their appreciation for us,” Lillie said.
Yesterday she had doughnut holes, hot apple cider and hot chocolate for customers next to the entrance of her shop. She hung nine small envelopes by wire in a wooden frame with rubber ducks printed on the front. Customers could pick an envelope and get the discount inside.
Tub-Time Treasures typically opens at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, but she opened at 8 a.m. yesterday. Shortly after opening she had a line of customers out the door, she said. By late morning she had four or five customers at a time picking out soaps, lotions and bath salts. Many of the products are artfully shaped like their corresponding scent — watermelon soap, for example, looks like a slice of watermelon. She had to restock her sugared lavender and egg nog bath bombs by 10:30 a.m.
As a former physician’s assistant, Lillie uses her knowledge of chemistry to make all her products. She also occasionally holds classes in which she teaches people to make their own soap.
She said her ability to artfully custom-make all her products and take scent requests from customers sets her apart from the large corporate stores such as Bath and Body Works and Bed Bath and Beyond in Eugene. But it’s difficult for her to make people aware her store without a large advertising budget. That’s why she takes full advantage of Small Business Saturday.
“People drive through town with blinders on,” Lillie said. “Most people don’t even see that we have small businesses here in town. So having an event that will encourage them to step foot into your business and see what you have to offer, even if they don’t buy anything from you that day, they know that you’re there.”
Lillie is happy other businesses in Sutherlin and the surrounding area are participating in the event. She said supporting local businesses benefits the community in more ways than people expect.
“When you shop small, those dollars stay local,” she said. “Those dollars are paying for my kids to participate in basketball. Those dollars are putting gas in my car to run my dad back and forth to dialysis. With small businesses, your money stays here. Whereas with large corporations, their headquarters aren’t even anywhere around us.”
Terry Prestianni and his wife Sandra went into Tub-Time Treasures to buy holiday gifts yesterday morning. Terry, who sits on the Chamber of Commerce board, said they always get gifts at the soap shop. Gifts are essential for getting new regular customers, according to Lillie.
“Smaller businesses get overlooked,” Prestianni said. “This is a change to really highlight how much they impact our community.”