Holidays mean big business for retailers. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers spent $658.3 billion during the 2016 holiday season. To compete with the convenience of online marketplaces and the one-stop shopping promise of big-box stores, small-business entrepreneurs make use of the advantages that come from being flexible, responsive, and intimately connected with their communities.
At Buffalo’s West Side Bazaar, Nadeen Yousef, of Macramé by Nadeen, has honed her holiday strategy over two and a half years in business. Sales are very good during holidays, she says, “especially small things, when the kids want to buy something for the family.” During the holiday season, Nadeen, who can be seen knotting macramé creations behind her booth, focuses on producing a large quantity of smaller items, such as dream catchers, rather than costlier wall hangings.
These holiday sales are important to her. “There are some times, like January and February, when it’s so slow, so the holiday time [makes] the balance,” she says. In addition to ensuring a supply of affordable items, she tries to offer convenience for shoppers by selling her wares at outside events. “The last three months of the year, October, November, December, we go to hotels, to many places, offices, we sell there. Sometimes people, they don’t have time to look online to see where’s a place to get a specific gift. So we go to them.” But, Nadeen adds, she looks forward to these events for more than business reasons. “It’s not only for sales—we enjoy [showing] the people who we are, where are you from, what we have, so maybe next time they will come to this place.”
For other entrepreneurs looking to increase their holiday sales, Nadeen says, “My advice is, listen to the customer, what they like. Many times I get ideas from the customer.”
Not far from Nadeen, at the entrance to the Bazaar, Raine Manuel greets visitors. She is the co-owner of Zigma Naturals, which sells a variety of body care products and vitamins as well as jewelry and clothing from different countries. Raine, who recently expanded her stock of Burmese clothing, believes that the international provenance of her goods is a draw for shoppers. So is the fact that Zigma Naturals is located next to other international stores and a food court where patrons can take lunch breaks, making a holiday shopping trip a fun excursion rather than a slog through the aisles. “Every shop you will see a lot of special items,” Raine says, gesturing around her. “‘I’m going to Thailand, I’m going to Burma already, I went to Rwanda, oh, South Sudan’—everything is here! …When you go to Target you don’t see all this. They have special items, but not like us.”
For holidays, Zigma Naturals sells themed items. Raine points out a pair of dangly silver earrings shaped like costume vampire teeth--a Halloween special. She keeps seasonal stock moving with promotions like two-for-one offers and discounts, and pays attention to what people will want for upcoming occasions.
Her role in the community also helps. When not at her booth, she works as a translator and invests her income from that job into expanding her stock, though she often defers or waives fees for clients who cannot afford to pay. From her location at the entrance to the Bazaar, she likes to wave and greet people, whether or not they are coming to visit her shop. She jokes that she is like a receptionist. “I welcome people here. I love to. It’s a lot of my country people here. If they come and they know me: ‘Just saying hi! And how is business today?’ ‘Good!’”
Phylicia Dove of Black Monarchy, which opened in Little Five Points earlier this year, says there’s something special about the role small businesses play in communities, increasing diversity and personal relationships. These relationships—customers at Black Monarchy are often known by name—mean that she can stock the shop based on customers’ tastes and interests.
Her focus on creative and one-of-a-kind products, such as custom clothing sourced from around the world and jewelry handwoven from raw materials, also offers a competitive edge for attracting shoppers interested in meaningful or unique items. “This is a distinct difference between Black Monarchy and big-box retailers,” Dove says. “We can actually tell you the story for every piece we carry, and our customers leave feeling like they not only have a piece of art, but also knowledge from another part of the world.”
It’s easy to panic at the thought of competing with big businesses, Dove says, but “it is vital to remember why your customers specifically [patronize] your business and expand that during the holidays. Use this season to say thank you … by adding more of their favorite items, providing specials and new giftings.” This isn’t the time for reinvention, she says, but for cementing the relationships already built. One holiday-appropriate way Black Monarchy does that: “We gift each customer with each purchase as a way to say we appreciate your business and look forward to your return.”
Her final word of advice for small business owners during the holidays? “Focus on your customers and not the dollar amount. Your community already loves you. Use this time to show them you love them back!”