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Small Business Saturday: Inside Look

Susan Sobbott

The first “Small Business Saturday” burst on the scene on November 27, 2010.  Since then it has been held every Saturday following Thanksgiving here in the United States.  It occurs after Black Friday and before Cyber Monday.

Small Business Saturday is huge, of course. It’s now a national movement.

In fact, the phrase “Shop Small” is a motivational rallying cry for small businesses.  It’s a day to feel pride for working in a small business. It’s a day to graciously accept the support of millions of consumers.

And we largely have American Express OPEN to thank for it. American Express founded the day, putting human capital and financial capital into it.

American Express knew they couldn’t do it alone. So they built support from other corporate partners and community organizations. For instance, did you know that Facebook was one of the first corporate partners of Small Business Saturday?

From the very first year, it was a stunning success.

And if there is one person most visible behind Small Business Saturday, I’d have to say it’s Susan Sobbott.

At the time, Sobbott (pictured) was the CEO of American Express OPEN, the division serving small businesses.

I did the interview below of Susan Sobbott a few days before the launch.  It’s pretty standard corporate speak.  It’s not her words that are remarkable.  What’s remarkable is that she was willing to take the time to do it.  She engaged.  She brought that kind of energy to everything she did at Amex OPEN.

Looking back eight years later, I can’t help but reflect on her impact.  In my mind, Susan Sobbott was the driving force behind Small Business Saturday.  If it weren’t for Susan Sobbott, I’m not sure we’d have a #ShopSmall day. We owe her.

Below is what I wrote when I interviewed her back in November 2010.

— Anita Campbell, January 20, 2019.

Small Business Saturday, An Inside Look

Earlier this week I posted an announcement asking for your support for Small Business Saturday [1].  November 27, 2010 is Small Business Saturday.

This initiative is spearheaded by American Express.

Small Business Saturday has really picked up steam in a short period of time.  I was surprised to see that as of this writing (Friday morning), there are over 1,000,000 Facebook followers of the Small Business Saturday Facebook page [2].  When I put the article up a few days ago (Tuesday morning), I checked and there were just over 800,000 followers at that time.  So you can see how fast support has grown.

As many of you know, I have been a long-time contributor to the American Express OPENForum site. Therefore, I was able to get a few minutes of time with Susan Sobbott (pictured), President of American Express OPEN, in an email interview.

I asked her about Small Business Saturday and her insights behind it.

Here is that interview. It’s a quick read and I think you’ll enjoy this brief behind-the-scenes look:

Why “Small Business Saturday”?

Susan Sobbott: We’re launching Small Business Saturday to help raise awareness about the critical role small business plays in cities and towns across our country.  We know the role they play in the economy, creating 65% of net new jobs over the past two decades.

But they also play a critical role in our communities.  According to Civic Economics, every $100 spent in locally-owned, independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures.  We want to help make more people aware of the importance of small business and to drive more support for these businesses.

How did American Express OPEN’s involvement come about?

Susan Sobbott: We see Small Business Saturday as responding to a need we’ve heard from small business owners. That is, more than anything else, they need more customers.

But in addition to our involvement, more than a dozen organizations are helping to get the word out, including The 3/50 Project, Business Matchmaking, Count Me In, eWomenNetwork, Facebook, and Yelp!

You can find a list of supporters at the Small Business Saturday website [3].

What are some ways we can all support small businesses?

This may sound like a strange question, but some people may not spend much with local small businesses. They may have trouble thinking of ways.  So please name some products or services that consumers need where they can spend $50.

Susan Sobbott: Of course, there are those small businesses that you might already visit regularly and thus come more easily to mind. Perhaps your dry cleaner, hair stylist, floral shop, or local restaurant.

But we hope that Small Business Saturday reminds people to think of locally owned businesses for their holiday shopping, as well.  This could mean shopping with an independent book seller, a small boutique, or a local bike shop.

What are some ideas for supporting small businesses for B2B (business-to-business) expenses?

Susan Sobbott: For the holidays, businesses might consider looking to small businesses for gifts or gift certificates for customers or employees. Or look to restaurants for catering or holiday parties.

But we hope that everyone will think beyond the holidays, as well. Look to small businesses that may be able to serve your needs on a more regular basis, such as a local printing and copying shop.  Maybe you look to them for your holidays cards and then continue to work with them throughout the year.

Susan, you once told me about working in your family business while growing up.  What did you learn from the experience?

Susan Sobbott: There’s so much I learned working in my family’s trucking business. Probably the most striking was the importance of customer relationships.

In a small business, there’s not only more of a one-to-one relationship with your customers, the role they play in sustaining your business is just more apparent.  You realize very quickly how dependent you are on customers.

It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me and have tried to instill in our employees.

At OPEN, we have created a number of opportunities for our employees at all levels to meet and learn from our customers.  It’s important to see and hear first-hand the impact we can have on their business.

Aside from Small Business Saturday, what else can we do to support small businesses?

Susan Sobbott: It’s great if we can get people to shop at their favorite local businesses on Small Business Saturday, but it doesn’t stop there.

Small Business Saturday can be the first of many days when businesses and consumers consciously make the decision to consider shopping small.  Even better is if they tell their friends, family, and colleagues about the initiative so that they, too, can think about shopping at small businesses.

Thank you, Susan Sobbott, for taking the time to give us that background about Small Business Saturday. And for giving suggestions for how to support small businesses.

And I urge each of you to buy from a small business on Small Business Saturday. In fact, buy from many small businesses. And buy from them throughout the rest of the year.

Image credit: Anita Campbell