Frugal shoppers are keeping an especially close eye on price tags this holiday season as they fight budget-busting inflation.
Big-box retailers are happily obliging due to their inventory pileups of toys, electronics and other discretionary goods, as consumers dedicated a larger portion of their budgets toward increasingly expensive necessities like food and gas. Fears of a recession are also prompting consumers to be more frugal.
Small businesses tend to operate on much slimmer margins than big-box retailers, making it difficult to compete with larger stores’ Black Friday deals.
But there may still be deals on Small Business Saturday and throughout the holiday season.
Seeking that ‘wow gift’
The holiday shopping season is off to a good start at LARK Toys, a family-run store based in Kellogg, Minnesota, a town 40 miles from Rochester, said co-owner Miranda Gray-Burlingame.
Although LARK Toys isn’t offering storewide sales during the holiday season, shoppers, for the most part, haven’t been deterred by prices, which have risen over the past year to keep up with inflation,
“Some people do come and they’ll price compare with what you could get at a big box store,” she said. “That’s just part of the reality these days, and it can be very frustrating. But we’ve tried to go out of our way to bring in things in our store that you just can’t find at other places.”
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Their selection of in-house, handmade wooden toys alone sets the store apart, Gray-Burlingame said.
Then there’s the shopping experience. Their 21,000-square-foot store features a handmade carousel, a mini golf course, a bookstore, a section devoted to puppets, a café and more.
“Sometimes, people come for five hours. But they’re not just here for a game of golf,” Gray-Burlingame said.
Even though Lark Toys is making an effort to sell more affordable goods this year, “there are still a lot of people who want that ‘wow’ gift,” she said, adding that last week they sold their biggest stuffed animal bunny for close to $200
What are the advantages for shopping at a small business?
Unlike big retailers, small businesses haven’t accumulated unusually high inventory levels because many of them lack storage, said Holly Wade, executive director of research at the National Federation of Independent Business.
That’s good from a business point of view, but could be bad for consumers, who may not find steep discounts at small businesses, Wade said.
NFIB’s latest quarterly Small Business Economic Trends report found that a small but growing share of small business owners are starting to lower prices of some goods and that fewer are raising prices compared with previous months. But 12% of businesses that reported lower profits in October attributed that to slashing prices, according to the report.
Small businesses affected by ‘everything’
Like Gray-Burlingame, Ishmael Jaramillo, the owner of Metro Mens Clothing, a store in the East Passyunk neighborhood of Philadelphia, put a lot of thought into cultivating an in-store experience.
He recently added a bar where he whips up cocktails for customers as they shop, and even hosts bourbon tastings. Another bonus: He offers on-site, same-day tailoring for customers for an additional $14.
He emphasized the importance of having unique goods that shoppers can’t find elsewhere, while also being conscious of consumers’ stretched budgets.
One of his top sellers lately is handbags and totes made by Myra Bags, a brand of accessories from India that isn’t normally widely available for individual consumer purchases. He’s also added more clothing from Postmarc, a reasonably priced menswear brand that also isn’t normally sold directly to consumers
Ishmael Jaramillo started decorating his store early for Christmas to lure in holiday shoppers
Jaramillo is running a 20% storewide sale on Small Business Saturday. That will make some goods 60% to 70% lower than their full price, he said.
Jaramillo wishes customers appreciated that “small businesses get affected by everything, and we have to always get creative.”