By Virginia Bridges The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
First and foremost, Ben Smith is a materials engineer for Henkel in Cary, where he works in a lab doing analytical chemistry.
But two months a year, Smith, 35, is hustling on nights and weekends to mix and distribute his small-batch peppermint bark with organic candy canes and premium white and dark chocolates.
The competition is huge (grocery stores, Williams-Sonoma and Ghirardelli Chocolate all have their own versions), but Smith said he is differentiating himself with higher-end ingredients packed in a gift box made from recycled content and tied with black and white bakers' twine.
"Consumers, I think, are increasingly seeking out products that are local and handmade," he said. "What you would call artisanal products."
To win his share of the peppermint bark market, Smith has ramped up marketing efforts for the 2-year-old company, The Apothecary's Kitchen, which is based in his Raleigh home. One of those efforts includes participating in a Small Business Saturday trunk show at Gather in Cary.
American Express Open created the Small Business Saturday campaign five years ago, advocating for shopping at small local shops on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
This year, American Express Open and Etsy, a marketplace for handmade and vintage goods, encouraged small businesses to showcase Etsy vendors in their stores, offering "trunk show activation kits" along with related gift cards to cover expenses.
More than 200 businesses across the U.S. have registered for trunk shows, including KatieBeth's Learning Garden in Chapel Hill, The Doodling Bug in Apex, Juliepatoolie's in Burlington, Vespertine in Carrboro and Gather.
Extending the day's impact
Black Friday's tradition of deep discounts is more conducive to retailers offering mass-produced or many products. Artists churning out items mixed, shaped or sewn by hand are leveraging Small Business Saturday to highlight the quality of their products and their ability to give a bigger boost to the local economy with their spending and community support.
The trunk show extends the day's impact beyond brick-and-mortar stores to entrepreneurs building businesses on handmade goods, and in some cases while juggling multiple responsibilities.
According to a 2013 survey of 5,500 U.S. Etsy sellers, 74 percent of the vendors consider their Etsy shop a business and 91 percent hope to increase their sales. Eighteen percent sell goods full time and about 26 percent have other traditional full-time jobs.
Other studies indicate that Small Business Saturday is having an impact on the way consumers shop.
In 2013, consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday reported spending $5.7 billion that day, which is 3.6 percent more than the previous year.
Half of U.S consumers report they are aware of the holiday and 82 percent said they plan to shop at a small, locally owned business that day, according to a survey by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business. Seventy-seven percent said Small Business Saturday makes them want to shop at small, local stores year-round.
The Small Business Saturday campaign not only highlights the larger economic impact that local businesses make, but the impact they can have in communities and neighborhoods.
Gather, a gallery, coffee shop, retail and co-working space that also offers classes and workshops on West Chatham Street, is owned by Ben Smith's wife, Michelle, who is among a handful of entrepreneurs breathing some life into downtown Cary.
Ten years ago, Michelle Smith started the Rock and Shop, a biannual market that turned shopping for handmade goods into a party with bands and dozens of vendors. It was created to fulfill a needed outlet for selling handmade goods, but now the opportunities are plentiful.
"People can walk out their front door and find local makers' goods" she said.
On Small Business Saturday, Smith will debut her new model of mini-markets at Gather, which she opened in August, with handmade products that meet a theme. Saturday's theme is "Made by Men." The event will also offer free beer from Pharmacy Bar & Bottle and food for sale from Chirba Chirba.
Meanwhile, small businesses say holiday shopping has the potential to make or break their year. For Gather, holiday spending accounts for about 70 percent of its retail revenue, while retail sales account for about one-quarter of its total revenue, Michelle Smith said.
Holiday sales mean revenue
Holiday sales make up about 90 percent of Ben Smith's revenue.
He started experimenting with peppermint bark about five years ago and started selling the goods in 2012. He named his company The Apothecary's Kitchen as a way to incorporate his family's history. From 1796 to 1933, his ancestors ran the oldest apothecary in the U.S., Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, which is now a museum in Alexandria, Va.
This year, he stepped up his marketing efforts and won mentions in Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appétit magazines.
Ben Smith has already packed more than 1,000 5-ounce boxes with bark, and in December he plans to take a week off from his job to fill the orders he expects to start rolling in after Thanksgiving.
"It's kind of a little scary," but exciting, he said about the anticipated rush.
Rob Wylie said he had heard about Small Business Saturday but didn't see how it applied to him until Michelle Smith asked him to participate in her "Made by Men" market.
Wylie started his company, Wylie Woodworks, around 2010 after being laid off from a high-end cabinet shop in Raleigh.
Wylie initially worked on larger-scale jobs, such as bookshelves and a bar, but started taking on smaller projects, such as baguette cutting boards in cherry or walnut and iron hat hooks on reclaimed heart pine. It was easier to produce those smaller projects in his one-car garage in downtown Raleigh as a stay-at-home dad for his daughter Emmeline, now 4.
"It just sort of made sense to try to focus on smaller items instead of doing the whole business of going out and bidding on jobs," Wylie said.
Wylie has an Etsy store and sells some goods at Gather. Most business comes from craft shows, where people take his card and reach out later to order products.
"I go through 200 to 300 cards a show," he said.
Last year, the holiday shopping season accounted for about two-thirds of Wylie's revenue, and the upcoming holiday sales could be even more than that. Now that he also has a 1-year-old son, the stay-at-home dad hasn't been able to make as much throughout the year.
"I wasn't able to really start getting out in the shop until recently when he started taking more naps," he said.