Smaller shops counter the Black Friday chaos

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Every year the call to shop rings louder when the holidays roll around. Big box stores and national retailers release their Black Friday specials earlier in November in an increasingly competitive campaign to lure more customers.

Small retailers are often left out, unable to compete with the extensive advertising budgets and visibility of national brands. Some storeowners, however, are using this to their advantage. New Orleans CityBusiness reports Evie Poitevent, who owns Feet First shoe stores in New Orleans and Metairie, started Not So Black Friday last year.

The daylong event is meant to be a stress-free alternative from the crowds who head to bigger retailers that day. Last year, she offered double rewards points to repeat customers and partnered with other local businesses to pamper customers with free services on Black Friday. Martin's Wine Cellar provided champagne, and Buff Beauty Bar offered free makeovers. Customers could also sign up for free massages.

Poitevent said she exceeded her sales goal last year with Not So Black Friday and plans to repeat the event this year. "It's supposed to be the antithesis of the stressful frenzy that takes place at the mall and the big retailers," she said. As a smaller, local brand, Feet First does not have a sizeable budget for traditional advertising, she said. It uses an aggressive social media campaign to inform customers about promotions before Black Friday. "A blanket mass marketing approach is not cost effective for a small retailer," Poitevent said. "The leg up we have as local businesses is that we know who our regular customers are."

One disadvantage for small stores on Black Friday is the inability to cut prices and still expect to see profits. It's part of the reason why Small Business Saturday, a campaign American Express sponsors, was started in 2010 to encourage consumers to shop at locally owned businesses instead of spending more time at malls or on the Internet.

Jessica Elliot, government affairs director for the Louisiana Retailers Association, said small businesses are more likely to showcase their sale specials and run promotions on Small Business Saturday than attempt to tread the busy waters of Black Friday.

In the past four years, the event has grown as a marketing tool for small shops to reach out to customers who prefer more personalized experiences, Elliot said. Sam Farnet, president of the Magazine Street Merchants Association, said businesses along the corridor aren't isolating Black Friday to target holiday sales.

Instead, they are kicking off "Don't Get Malled," a season-long advertising campaign to convince shoppers to steer clear of mall crowds. The idea of going against the flow is even starting to catch on with national retailers. While Kmart, Target and Walmart have announced they will be open on Thanksgiving, Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club have made it a point to announce they will be closed Thanksgiving.