By Maggie McBride
Every Thanksgiving evening, big-box stores open their doors to the public, advertising deep discounts in an attempt to capture holiday shopping dollars and finish the sales year strong. (Editors note: Remember when Black Friday actually started the day after Thanksgiving? That was a good time.) The day after the dust settles, however, is a little more personable. Founded by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday encourages communities to patronize local small businesses and peruse their wares for unique holiday gifts. It’s easy to see Small Business Saturday as an opportunity for the mom-and-pop shops that line Main Street to put holiday shopping dollars in their coffers. Online businesses have joined in as well, since e-commerce has enabled even the smallest businesses to have a global presence.
Though it’s certainly a successful and well-intended day, it puts car dealerships in a strange spot. Auto manufacturers are the definition of large companies: global in scale, sometimes with multiple divisions under the same brand, with models that differ by continent. It makes sense that manufacturers run Black Friday specials. For people who want to head to a dealership, there are lease and financing deals to be had. During the most recent Black Friday, Chevrolet was offering the 2019 Camaro with 0% financing for 60 months and hundreds of dollars cash back. These kinds of competitive offers are an expeditious way to clear out the inventory close to the end of the year, even if families aren’t breaking the dealership doors down before heading back to the Thanksgiving table for coffee and dessert.
Consider this: the majority of dealerships are family-owned, but they aren’t celebrated as a small business. Even though Small Business Saturday tends to focus on the mom-and-pop shops with 10 or fewer employees, it really could be seen as a matter of perspective because dealerships have a similar setup, just on a larger scale: the average dealership employs 68 people. As a result, it’s more important than ever to include dealerships in dialogues about small businesses, and offer them a slice of the Small Business Saturday spotlight. For the dealerships that missed it this year, here are a few ways to make sure they can attract consumers in future Small Business Saturdays.
A Change in Perspective
Seeing car dealerships (franchise and independent alike) as small businesses may give consumers pause. It seems like a bit of a contradiction to view a purveyor of an international car brand with the same familiarity one would see the local bakery. However, there are ways for dealerships to prove that they’re part of the community, too, and as a result put themselves out there as a more intuitive pick for shoppers figuring out where to stop for next year’s Small Business Saturday.
A good start is to look into philanthropic efforts. Over 70% of dealerships engage in some type of charitable giving. In this case, local is better, but it may require a little more creativity than cutting a check. If the local PTA is holding a gift auction, putting together a “car care” bundle- gift certificates for a variety of services, offering a deep discount on a new set of tires, or something similar- will go much farther, and will actually bring people back to the dealership, in the hopes of establishing customer retention. It’s also a more thoughtful “gift,” which will stand out among members of the organization soliciting donations.
Of course, being seen as a small business is a little more complicated than throwing resources around. It requires more involvement. Participate in local Chambers of Commerce. Send in-person representation to town events, such as fairs, charity walks, and marathons. Renting a table, putting a team together for a 5K, or hosting a town wide Trunk-or-Treat on Halloween for the neighborhood are all low-cost ways to craft a presence as a reliable part of the community. A scenario where this could prove useful is when parents of teenagers see a dealership assisting with school events, it plants a seed in their heads of where to go when it’s time for their high schooler to get their license and, hopefully, first car.
Make sure all of these efforts are on social media! Platforms such as Facebook provide free access to, potentially, thousands of people. If someone local is browsing for potential dealerships, not only will they look at the inventory, but they will take a look at social media presence to check the reviews. Since the photos and videos are on the same page as reviews, they will see videos and photos of your dealership out and about locally.
The Small Business Advantage
While Small Business Saturday might be the most concentrated effort to direct traffic to small shops, the rewards for truly operating in the capacity of a small business come all year round.
It starts by being integral to the local economy. Small businesses are a huge part of the American economy, accounting for two-thirds of creating net new jobs. When shoppers support smaller businesses, they feel that they are making a more significant impact locally. Making a big purchase like a car, even more so. For Small Business Saturday, dealerships might consider adding incentives branded specifically for that day.
Another plus of being considered a small business is having high regard in the neighborhood, certainly an advantage above big-box stores with far less face-to-face engagement with customers. Area shoppers are considered a trusted third party, making their reviews slightly more valuable than an out-of-town shopper. Between that and employing local people, dealerships have the opportunity to bolster a good reputation in the community.
Interestingly, and somewhat paradoxically given the personal nature of interacting with smaller businesses, Small Business Saturday also has a unique focus on ecommerce. With automotive customers expressing a clear desire to put the entire shopping process online, it may be advantageous for dealerships to beef up their web presence ahead of time. It never hurts to give shoppers a place to browse inventory in a place where the dealership sets the narrative. Flesh out the company biography, highlighting community engagement efforts, but it’s also an important time for the inventory pages to look their best- plenty of photos, lots of helpful information, all in anticipation of shoppers browsing for Black Friday and the day afterwards, Small Business Saturday.
Why Not Small?
While enjoying a unique rapport with the town, car dealerships still have the advantage of selling an in-demand product and being a huge part of the local economy. After all, this is a business that is undoubtedly paying more local taxes than the big box stores nearby. Paid taxes are a badge of honor for these dealers and a positive feature to highlight in advertising for areas with a plethora of corporate retail businesses.
Why shouldn’t a local company – providing jobs to local workers, paying local, county and state taxes, and engaging in philanthropy within the community – be considered a small business? Because they have too many employees? Because they deal in products that are a major purchase for most consumers? Next Small Business Saturday, let’s include the businesses that provide local communities with an item they use every day. The businesses that offer tea koozies and handmade fridge magnets should be celebrated too – everyone has their place – but those businesses are going to be hard pressed to support a local economy in a similar fashion to a well-run, community-invested automotive dealership.