Small business has big impact on community
There was a time when the main street of Sturgis, South Dakota was lined with cows instead of hogs. While the hogs go away once the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ends, surviving the rest of the year depends largely on cows—or the people who raise them–for local small businesses.
Campbell’s Supply is one of the businesses in Sturgis that can attribute their existence to ag producers. The store, one of seven in South Dakota and Iowa, is still owned by the Campbell family, after 60 years. The Sturgis location—and some of their employees—has been around for 35 years.
The community wondered if that term would come to an end when the Atlas blizzard last October collapsed the roof of the farm and ranch supply store. “We had to rebuild from the ground up,” said assistant manager Cole Anderson. The rebuilding process took seven months, and started out with a lot of uncertainty among the employees.
Not only did all the employees still have jobs when the business re-opened in May of this year, but for the intervening seven months the company paid all of their employees for 40 hours a week, plus all their benefits, just as if the business were still functioning. The company asked only that the employees commit 20 hours to serving the community each week. “It was a pretty good deal, what they did,” Anderson said.
While the store being closed was an inconvenience for the customers, Anderson said when they re-opened the customers were appreciative. “They figured out how much gas costs them to go to Rapid or Spearfish. They said they sure knew it when we weren’t here.”
While many businesses in Sturgis are open only during the Rally or for the summer, the ag community, and the nature of those customers, keeps Campbell’s doors open.
“We’re one of the few places left you can walk in and get stuff for your baler or haying equipment. These guys don’t like to get on the internet. They still like good service and a place to come to. And free coffee.”
That free coffee and personal service is just part of the reason people support small businesses. A new marketing campaign by American Express highlights even more reasons.
In 2010 American Express started an effort to bring attention to small, locally owned businesses with Small Business Saturday. They designated the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the day after the “biggest shopping day of the year” as a day to use your wallet to show local merchants how much they mean to you and your community.
In 2012, American Express estimates people spent $5.5 billion at small, independent businesses that day. American Express encourages businesses to take part in the effort by providing free marketing materials and promotion through their online efforts. They encourage customers to shop small by offering credits on their American Express statements for registering on their website, then shopping at qualifying businesses that day.
In Sturgis the effort started among a few businesses, but this year, the Sturgis Chamber of Commerce is giving those efforts a boost, said Kathy Christenson, events and membership coordinator.
The Chamber is providing promotional items for local businesses to give out that Saturday, and will be sending an email blast about the day, and promoting it on Facebook. They are also tying the day to their annual pre-Christmas Scrooge Night, Dec. 18. Anyone who shops locally on Nov. 29 and brings their receipts in on Scrooge Night will get to pick a key to attempt to open a treasure chest for every $25 they have on their receipts.
Shopping locally makes sense for everyone, Christenson said. “By shopping locally it keeps the money within our community, which benefits both the small business owners so they can continue to run their shops year-round, and brings those tax dollars into the community.”
In a town that sees many businesses flare up for less than a month a year when the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is in town, then disappear for the rest of the year, being able to keep a business open year-round is a rewarding challenge said local business owner Carol Hallock.
Hallock and her husband, Randy, own Rockingtree Floral and Garden Center on Lazelle Street in Sturgis, which employs up to 30 people, many of them year-round. They received the 2014 South Dakota Retailer of the Year Award from the South Dakota Retailer’s Association. The award recognized their contributions to the community, customer service and their commitment to helping others.
That’s part of the small town partnership, said Christenson. “When you support the local businesses, they are the ones continuing to invest in their community for Little League or soccer or community plays. They’re the ones everybody comes to when they need those donations.”
The local businesspeople usually meet those needs. Though they may be operating on a narrower profit margin than big box stores, they recognize that they’re investing in their customers and community.
Hallock said she has seen a recent increase in people shopping locally, especially on Small Business Saturday. “I think people feel a real loyalty to small businesses like ours. It helps if you encourage them a little bit. There’s a weariness that comes from the big box store Black Friday routine and more and more people are staying away from Black Friday shopping and supporting local businesses.”
On Small Business Saturday Hollock plans to have some discounts and sales, but will also offer enhanced services, like free gift-wrapping, that bigger stores can’t. “There’s the person-to-person contact. Personal service, friendliness—you can ask for help and get it. You feel like you are supporting your local community instead of a corporation elsewhere. I just think it’s a lot more fun to shop small. I love South Dakota. I love my customers. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing,” Hallock said.