Metro Optics’ marketing
manager Sara Bonizio.
NEW YORK—It’s the most wonderful time of the year (to borrow a lyric from the late Andy Williams), especially if you’re in the retail business.

Black Friday, Sofa Sunday (a research day for online shoppers) and Cyber Monday are all record-setting holiday shopping events and red-letter days on the retail calendar. But don’t overlook Small Business Saturday, which is becoming quite a consumer force in its own right. And, there are signs of a growing representation from the optical community in what’s also known as “Shop Small” Saturday.

November 25 will mark the eighth annual Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to supporting local businesses and, in some ways, preserving neighborhoods around the country. American Express created Small Business Saturday in 2010 in response to small business owners’ most pressing need: more customers, according to the credit card company.

Among the many optical locations planning to participate in the Small Business Saturday initiative this year are Metro Optics of the Bronx, N.Y., Hicks Brunson Eyewear of Tulsa, Okla., and Mill Creek Optical of Dansville, N.Y.

“I think it’s great to have a dedicated ‘quote-unquote’ holiday for what we do [as small business owners],” Metro Optics marketing and community relations manager Sara Bonizio told VMail Weekend. “This has entered the vernacular now.”

Daniel Brunson, ABOC, and
Hicks Brunson Eyewear are
“Shop Small” stalwarts.
Daniel Brunson, ABOC, of Hicks Brunson Eyewear, said he has been a part of Small Business Saturday for about eight years. “I became much more involved three years ago when another store owner in my shopping center and I began organizing a Small Business Saturday Passport event,” he added.

“We rallied 10 stores to go in with us and we created a passport that shoppers can carry from store to store. At each store they receive a stamp. Once they have visited five stores they turn their Passports back in and are entered in a drawing for gift certificate giveaways.”

Since its inception in 2010, this special day—the Saturday after Thanksgiving—has become the biggest sales day of the year for many small companies. Indeed, in 2016, on Small Business Saturday an estimated 112 million shoppers “showed their love” for small business owners and operators and spent roughly $15.4 billion at these independent locations (including independent restaurants), according to American Express.

Separately, American Express and the National Retail Federation reported following last year’s Small Business Saturday that “the outpouring of support for local businesses across the country hit record highs, with 72 percent of U.S. consumers aware of the day.” The number of Small Business Saturday shoppers increased by an estimated 12 percent last year, also.

At Hicks Brunson Eyewear, one of the promotional aspects that day is to give a small gift to each shopper who visits with the Passport card, Daniel Brunson explained. “We found this was an effective way to generate more foot traffic, which helps all of us,” he said. “Last year at my optical boutique we gave each shopper a chocolate when they arrived at our store. Inside the wrapper was a discount anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent off their purchase.”

Shop Small signs are in abundance at Metro Optics, which also draws a crowd for its gift basket raffle. 

Jenni Leuzzi of Mill Creek Optical is
a Neighborhood Champion for
Small Business Saturday.
As part of its Small Business Saturday promotion, Metro Optics is raffling off a gift basket with a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses at each of its stores in the Bronx (last year the baskets featured Carrera sunwear). No purchase is necessary to receive a raffle ticket for the drawing. The baskets also include a gift certificate that serves as an incentive for first-time visitors to return to the store, Bonizio said.

“We do everything possible to emphasize that we’re community focused,” she added. “Something like Small Business Saturday is meant for someone like us… This is our family business and this is a personal thing for us.”

Bonizio also said she believes Small Business Saturday is an ideal vehicle for businesses such as Metro Optics “to shine and differentiate themselves” at a time when they are facing new and different competition from the likes of Amazon and Warby Parker. “It’s empowering to have a ‘holiday’ dedicated to small business that we can run with,” she noted.

Jenni Leuzzi, owner of Mill Creek Optical, is one of the “neighborhood champions” for Small Business Saturday in her town of Dansville, N.Y. In this role, she is involved with recruiting other small businesses to join the promotion and in distributing some of the signage, decals and other items that American Express makes available to business-owner participants.

“American Express gives Small Business Saturday a whole new life,” Leuzzi told VMail Weekend. “People love the free stuff they get while they’re shopping.”

Mill Creek Optical remodeled a 150-year-old building in the downtown area, but retained some of the
original hardwood flooring and tin ceilings to give the shop a distinctive old-time look and feel. 

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the biggest shopping weekend of the year follows the Thanksgiving holiday, when 69 percent of Americans—or about 164 million people—are expected to shop or consider shopping.

Among the findings of a recent NRF-Prosper Insights & Analytics survey,

  • 20 percent of those surveyed plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day (32 million).
  • Black Friday will remain the busiest day with 70 percent planning to shop then (115 million).

  • 43 percent of those surveyed are expected to shop on Saturday (71 million), with 76 percent saying they will do so specifically to support Small Business Saturday.

  • 48 percent of respondents expect to shop on Cyber Monday (78 million).

Asked about gauging the success of the Small Business Saturday promotion, Brunson said he considers two factors as critically important: sales and publicity. “On the sales side, I definitely want new customers to visit my store, and to buy glasses and sunglasses. So, I definitely want to hit sales goals, but I also want to raise awareness for my store and my brand in the community," he said.

“The shop local movement is very real, and I feel like the Millennial generation gets that. They are looking for a unique way to express their own style through their eyewear. Eyecare professionals on the local level are equipped to do that better than anyone,” he added.