Elyse Brown, right, store manager at Place On The Pointe on Westwood Drive, shows Lauren Knight a special Christmas tree ornament. Brown said locally owned shops and restaurants often have a deeper understanding of their customers’ wants and needs. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — With the common battle cry of “shop small,” homegrown merchants hoped this week’s Small Business Saturday, promoted nationally by American Express and locally by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, would bring a real increase in retail revenue. Amex marketing research suggests that retail market share held by locally owned business have declined from 59 percent in 1990 to just 48 percent in 2009. During the same period, local restaurants’ piece of the pie dropped from 71 percent to 64 percent, Amex stated.
Amex created Small Business Saturday in 2010 to bolster holiday shopping locally and thereby help reverse the trend toward “Big Box” stores like Wal-mart, Sears and J.C. Penny. This year the credit card giant offered a $10 credit to those who use their card to purchase items of equal or greater value at qualified local stores. However, the credit was reduced from the $25 given in previous years.
The bottom line of shopping small is that a greater part of total revenue is returned to the community — to “recirculate,” local merchants say. According to a recent study by the American Booksellers Association, a full 52 percent of local business revenues are returned to surrounding community. Terri Stumpe, owner of the Royal Collection, 2347 Lake Park Drive, says there more to it than that.
“This is all about community,” Stumpe said. “It’s hard to compete with the big box stores when it comes to sales and price, but we’re the ones who are donating our products and our support to the charity auctions and the nonprofit fundraisers, coaching little league ball games.”
Stumpe said a big reason to shop small businesses is greater versatility and meaningful service to customers.
“Customer service is the big thing,” Stumpe said. “We understand the needs of our customers and we’re very proud of that. If we don’t have exactly what they want, we’ll do everything we can to find it for them.”
Stumpe grew up in Mitchell County, she said, with parents who were also entrepreneurs. She’s owned and operated Royal Collection, a small ladies’ boutique, for 28 years and handles a number of clothing and accessory lines unavailable anywhere else in town, she said.
For 19 years Elyse Brown has managed Place On The Pointe, 2416 Westgate Drive, for the owner, Susan Wiley. Brown agrees with Stumpe that customer service, product availability and a unique flavor can trump the size and buying power of the big boxes.
“We know some 80 percent of the customers who come in,” Brown said. “We know their children and their grandchildren, their likes and dislikes. We keep notebooks filled with wish lists for many of (our customers) — things they like to collect — say Mark Roberts Christmas fairies. We know the one’s she’s had in the past, we know she only wants the ones for 2014. We know that a person collects Herend (hand-painted figurines).”
Brown said that while the 3,000-square-foot gift shop caters to the eclectic interest of very special customers, there is something there for almost everyone — from toys and sweatshirts, to fine china and crystal, to body lotions and grilling tools.
Vera Spraggins and her daughter Kiley were there at Place On The Point Saturday to support one of their favorite local shops, and at the same time do their part for the community.
“There’s something special just in the customer service,” Spraggins said. “They know what the people like. You can call them and tell them what you’re looking for and they have it — things you wouldn’t find in a big box store.”
Yvonnie and Marc Brooks are a mother and son team and for the last six years owners of Love Letters at Ledo Plaza. Like most successful “mom and pop” (mom and son) proprietors, they’ve learned to specialize — but in a way that broad’s as well as unique. In other seasons they do a lot of custom corporate shirts. For the holidays they carry “a lot of things that are made in Georgia,” said Marc Brooks, like honey from the Savannah Honey Company, Lauri Jo’s Pepper Jellies out of Norman Park and Grilling Planks, a collection of Georgia hardwood boards to “marinate” with juices and grill your favorites meats or vegetables.Other specialties are “several lines” of jewelry, including the popular TrollBeads and a brand new one, Uno de 50 from Spain.
“We had a lot of people take advantage of the Amex offer last year,” said Yvonnie Brooks early Saturday “and we’re optimistic about today as well. It’s good to encourage support for local businesses. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. We have employees and we spend our money in the community.”