Small Business Saturday Kicks Off With American Express and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

American Express and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg Kick Off Small Business Saturday

In an effort to boost sales during the upcoming holiday shopping season, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault officially announced the second-annual Small Business Saturday at a press conference on Thursday.

Small Business Saturday is the day on which American Express offers its card members a $25 credit for any $25 or more spent at qualifying small businesses nationwide. This year, the big day is Nov. 26, sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Last year’s Small Business Saturday struck a chord with customers and small-business owners alike. About 1.2 million Facebook users “liked” the Small Business Saturday page, while participating small retailers recorded a 28 percent increase in sales over the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2009. "Coming out of the recession, the number-one need we were hearing from small businesses was 'help me get more customers, help me create greater demand,'" Mary Ann Fitzmaurice, senior vice president of American Express OPEN, told The Huffington Post. "We felt that, based on our relationship with small businesses, we had the trust in the brand to create this movement."

The goal is to take that focus on small retailers beyond just a day. Small Business Saturday is now “a cornerstone of a broader movement called Shop Small," Fitzmaurice said. "We want this to be sustainable and have consumers thinking about local communities and local small businesses every day."

The purpose of Small Business Saturday -- and Shop Small -- is to put a spotlight on small businesses, Chenault said. "Small-business owners provide jobs and on-the-job training for millions of Americans, in big cities and small towns alike," he said. "Independently owned businesses also keep our neighborhoods unique and vibrant. It's in everybody's best interests to see small businesses thrive."

"Helping small businesses thrive is the biggest thing we can do to put our economy back on track," Bloomberg agreed. "And that's because small businesses are the economic engines to our neighborhoods." He cited Manhattan-based Rothman's, the family-owned mens' clothing store where the press conference was held, as an example of the power of small business. "They helped lead the Union Square revival 25 years ago," the mayor said.

But Chenault acknowledged the unique challenges of this economy. "In a recent survey we conducted, 60 percent of small-business owners told us they're stressed out by the economy, but they also said they aren't allowing their concerns to get them off track," he said. "In fact, seven out of 10 say they have plans to grow their business over the next six months. This determination is a testament to the tenacity of small-business owners everywhere. They don't choke under pressure -- they make things happen. But they can't always do it alone."

To that end, Chenault called Small Business Saturday "a nationwide effort." More than 200 advocacy partners have agreed to increase awareness, and more than 50 elected officials in 30 states are supporting Small Business Saturday. Chenault said he expects to have public sector support in all 50 states.

Big-name companies are lending a hand as well. "This year, we had more time to build tools to allow small businesses to make the day their own," Fitzmaurice said. That includes a digital toolkit offering resources from Facebook, Google, Twitter and more. As it did last year, American Express is offering $100 in free Facebook ads to the first 10,000 business owners who sign up. Another corporate supporter this year is FedEx, which has pledged to hand out $1 million worth of $25 Shop Small American Express Gift cards to consumers on its Facebook page.

But it's support from consumers that will play perhaps the biggest factor in the success of Small Business Saturday -- not to mention small businesses in general. "What is the role that an individual can play in helping restore our economy? One of the ways is to shop small," Chenault said. "More than 90 percent of [consumers] believe it's important to support local independent businesses in their community. We want to turn that support into sales. "

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