Independent business owners across the Triangle hope their customers will have a big time shopping small this Christmas.
While they could easily pick up potted plants or greenery at a chain grocery or department store, Joe Stoffregen’s regulars make a special stop at his Homewood Nursery & Garden Center in North Raleigh to spend their money with him.
“We have customers who say they wouldn’t buy a poinsettia anywhere else, they wouldn’t buy a tree anywhere else,” Stoffregen said near closing time on Small Business Saturday.
Started in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday comes the day after Black Friday. It’s meant to highlight independent businesses with fewer than 500 employees, which account for about half of the private-sector employment in the United States, according to the federal Small Business Administration.
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Business owners in downtown Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest and elsewhere in the Triangle marked the day with storewide discounts or refreshments for shoppers who skipped the mall and headed for the smaller stores. There, customers often are served by the owners or their families.
Stoffregen spent the day at Homewood, and it was a busy one.
“We haven’t closed yet, so I haven’t been able to count, but I think we will have sold more than 1,000 poinsettias today,” he said. Homewood, which includes a gift shop, garden center, nursery and greenhouses, produced about 30,000 of the hallmark Christmas flowers this year.
His father started the company in 1967, Stoffregen said, and nearly five decades later, it has deep roots that go beyond the trees and shrubs it produces. Each year, Homewood contributes landscaping plants to local churches, and the company helps Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts.
In return, customers go out of their way to do business with Homewood.
“People say, ‘We love having you and supporting you. We love having you as a part of the community,’ ” Stoffregen said.
That kind of customer commitment has kept Elizabeth Sullivan in business in downtown Cary for the past two years, she said.
“There are a lot of people who don’t like crowds,” she said. “They like to shop where it’s a little more quiet. They like coming into a downtown and visiting little shops. They say it reminds them of places they remember.”
Her store, Elizabeth’s Home & Garden, was busy Saturday with locals and out-of-towners who were in Cary visiting family for the Thanksgiving holiday. They sniffed soy candles, admired locally made jewelry and helped themselves to coffee from a single-brew station upstairs.
“Whenever I’m out of town, I try to pick up something that reminds me of my travels,” said Pat Barr, who lives in Tampa, Fla., and was in Cary to spend Thanksgiving with her niece. She found a decorative lock-and-key set, handed her money to Sullivan and shook the shop owner’s hand.
“I found my treasure today,” Barr said.
Black Friday benefit
Kristin Gurganus has kicked off her fourth Christmas shopping season in downtown Cary, where she runs the Purple Polka Dot. It’s a gift boutique that also offers hand-painted furniture, clothing and home accessories.
Although Black Friday has been associated with big chain retailers that can afford to offer some items at or below cost in order to draw customers, even small businesses benefit from the buying frenzy it generates, Gurganus said.
“It gets everybody started,” she said. “It’s like, ‘We’re done with Thanksgiving, now we’re ready to go on to Christmas.’
“They get some good deals and then they’re ready to start shopping.”
For Small Business Saturday, Gurganus offered 20 percent off all her regular prices.
When she launched her business, Gurganus looked for a place that wasn’t part of a strip shopping center, something that had some character. Like other small-business owners, she ended up in a building with some history, with a look and feel that distinguishes it from a chain store that looks the same whether it is in Raleigh or Rochester, N.Y.
Customers look for that too, said Andrew Cozart, who runs one of his mother’s four retail and resale shops called My Girlfriend’s Closet. He works at one of the two in downtown Cary.
Saturday, he offered customers crackers and homemade treats along with an eclectic collection of clothing and home goods – and a storewide discount.
“Sometimes the mall is overwhelming,” he said. “Sometimes people want to shop with someone they know.”