Local Merchants Find an Antidote to Black Friday

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Thurston seventh-grader Rhiannon Seely won a Tommy Bahama gift basket during the Saturday, Nov. 28, shop local promotion.Photo courtesy LB Chamber of Commerce.
Thurston seventh-grader Rhiannon Seely won a Tommy Bahama gift basket during the Saturday, Nov. 28, shop local promotion.Photo courtesy LB Chamber of Commerce.

Julie Jacobs, owner of the Forest Avenue children’s clothing store Little Bohemian, hoped that taking part in her first Laguna Chamber of Commerce Small Business Saturday event would be worthwhile. And she was right. “It was my best sales day ever since I bought the store in 2013,” she said.

Chamber staff promoted Think Laguna First Small Business Saturday throughout November and endeavored to reach storefronts all over town. “We had 105 businesses sign up to be a part of our #thinklagunafirst event,” said Laura Henkels, the chamber’s executive director. “Last year we had 26 so that alone was a huge success. The chamber invited every business in town to take part, member or not, and we put a ton of effort behind marketing the day and we have had great feedback,” said Henkels.

Overall, sales at brick and mortar stores across the county was down on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to $12.2 billion from $13.6 billion last year, according to the retail analyst ShopperTrak. From anecdotal reports, Laguna-based businesses took in receipts that more closely mirrored the national trend of Small Business Saturday, which saw spending exceed $16.2 billion, a 14 percent increase over the previous year’s mark, according the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express.

One of the local beneficiaries was Paulette Huerta, owner of home décor store Remember When Home Furnishings, 1100 S. Coast Highway. “There was absolutely more sales and a mix of familiar faces and new faces,” she said. “I had one customer come in, who while riding the trolley saw the store’s name on a prepared chamber list of participating businesses,” said Huerta. “It was really a great day.”

Chamber staff also informed Laguna hotels of the event, an effort to entice visitors to patronize local establishments and experience the vibrancy of the community.

Chamber board member Kavita Reddy, owner of handmade home goods store Buy Hand, at 670 S. Coast Highway, also experienced the positive impact of Think Laguna First. “I definitely saw an increase in traffic,” said Reddy. “Twenty to 25 percent of my customers knew about Small Business Saturday and came into shop for that reason.”

From the chamber perspective, Reddy noted the significant emphasis the organization put into helping businesses with outreach, including media. “We did a number of press releases, and a lot of social media to bring attention to the event,” she said. “We also provided to stores that were part of the day marketing tips leading up to Saturday to help them generate excitement.”

Jane Hanauer, proprietor of Laguna Beach Books at 1200 S. Coast Highway, echoed the upbeat comments. “I had customers who made a point to come in because it was Small Business Saturday.”

For Jacobs, her experience with Think Laguna First Small Business Saturday, could not have been better. “The chamber really did a great job getting the word out and supporting us,” she said. Since this was her first time participating, Jacobs could not provide a comparison of sales results from last year, though she figures the sales volume last Saturday was comparable to what she anticipates during the Chamber-organized Hospitality Night, set for Friday, Dec 4.

Another beneficiary of the increase in transactions is the city’s general fund. Ten percent of its revenue is generated by sales tax. In 2015, sales tax revenue is projected to increase to $5.25 million, compared to $5 million last year, according to the city’s budget projections.

A small percentage of the 350-member chamber joined in Small Business Saturday. And just half of the 104 participants are chamber members. Nevertheless, Henkel intends to survey all participants to build on this year’s success. “We had a lot of fun going out into the community and helping our small businesses owners across the city to band together and create a citywide daylong event,” she said.


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