Small Business Saturday: Kick-starting a profitable Christmas

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Small business, Business

Small Business Saturday was founded by American Express in 2010 and falls on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving
Small Business Saturday was founded by American Express in 2010 and falls on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving
As independent businesses across the UK countdown to Small Business Saturday on 7 December, successful hospitality entrepreneur Sarah Willingham has given her top tips for smaller operators to stay profitable during the festive period and beyond.

Spearheaded by American Express, Small Business Saturday encourages people to shop in local, small, independent businesses across the country. Having launched in the US in 2010, this is the first year it is taking place in the UK.

“As founders of Small Business Saturday in the United States, we are proud to be part of the UK initiative and support the small businesses that make a huge contribution to our economy and local communities,” said Mark Roper, head of merchant services for the UK at American Express.

Ahead of the big day, BigHospitality caught up with Willingham, who is currently working with American Express as a ‘Small Business Insider’. She is a founding director and investor in the London Cocktail Club and is involved in a number of other food-related businesses across the UK.

  • What do you think about Small Business Saturday launching in the UK?

I think it is so important that communities support their independent shops. There are some absolute gems tucked away in every town but without our support they will disappear and our towns will all become identical and will lose their individual identity.  Small Business Saturday is a way to remind people to shop small and shop local.

  • How can businesses make the most of the day?

Businesses need to really engage and make Small Business Saturday work for them.  The four key areas are merchandising and branding (you need to entice people into your shop with a clear identity maybe with special offers for SBS); partnerships and community (show the local town that you are at the heart of it, maybe join up with other small businesses and run a SBS event); loyalty and service (offer brilliant service); and marketing (let people know what you can offer them on SBS and how you are better than the big boys).

Use Small Business Saturday as a way to let potential customers know what you are all about.  Offer rewards and incentives – maybe discounts if you buy more than one item or a mince pie if you buy a glass of mulled wine.   It can be a very beneficial exercise in PR and your aim should be to reap the benefits all year round.

  • What do you think about the increased competition independent hospitality businesses are facing from the larger chains?

One big challenge for hospitality businesses in tough times is property.  The premiums are highest for the best sites and only the large chains can afford them.  However, existing businesses who are truly ‘best in class’ will always stay afloat, especially as consumers become more discerning and picky about where they spend their money.

  • What would be your top tips or key pieces of advice for small hospitality businesses to stay profitable next year?

Focus on the consumer.  Know your customer and exactly what they want.  It is important to do what you do consistently better than everyone else. I would also give the following tips: -

  1. Make your window display attractive. Very few consumers will wander into an anonymous shop front so you need to grab their attention as they approach your store. You want them to stop and be enticed to buy!  But remember to let the shopper know what you are selling – keep your brand identity.
  2. Try and empower your staff so that your business can run in your absence.  Giving your employees responsibility makes them happy and happy staff ensures repeat visits by customers.  Personal service is somewhere you can truly add value.
  3. Become a big part of your local community. Building up a band of loyal local customers is so important to a business.  Get out and about and get involved in community activities.  Show people you care.
  4. Use social media.  Local sites on Facebook are really powerful. Set up your own page (you can do this for free) and either buy targeted likes or use other local community pages to advertise your business page.  You can offer promotions and discounts and let people know about new products and services in a very targeted way. Facebook gives you the chance to promote yourself too – letting customers see the personality behind the business.

How can hospitality operators drive business in the run up to Christmas? Is there anything in particular they should be focusing on?

The Christmas party season is your time and a chance for you to really maximise profits.  Make sure you can cater for large groups – use set menus or limit your menu as it can ease the pressure in the kitchen or bar and also help with profitability. 

Try and open on the busy days – loads of hospitality businesses are closed on Boxing Day, make sure you are open and there to cater for the people who don’t want to stay at home.  December is all about revenue and getting customers in.  Do what you do even better than normal and they’ll come back all year.


In the below video, Sarah Willingham visits café La Gigo Gi to discuss tips on loyalty and service ahead of Small Business Saturday.

For more information on Small Business Saturday, visit​.

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