By GRAIG GRAZIOSI
Today is Heidi Goldberg’s favorite day of the year.
Goldberg, owner of Bodygoodies – an all-natural, organic soap shop in Liberty Township – spent weeks preparing trays of soap in anticipation for Small Business Saturday, an annual shopping holiday in the vein of Black Friday and Cyber Monday that focuses on small local businesses. Each year, she launches her holiday line of all-natural health and beauty products during the event.
“I like to give back to my customers on Small Business Saturday,” Goldberg said. “They come out all year long to support me, especially on Small Business Saturday, so it’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ for their support.”
The Saturday shopping holiday – created by American Express in 2010 to promote small businesses by offering cardholders financial incentives to shop local – has grown beyond its promotional roots into a significant retail event.
Consumers spent approximately $5.5 billion at participating small businesses during the first Small Business Saturday in 2010. In 2015, that number swelled to $16.2 billion thanks to a combination of growing business participation in the event paired with an increased consumer focus on shopping local.
A.J. Sumell, associate professor of economics at Youngstown State University, said the basic idea behind the “shop small” movement is that money spent on local retailers will remain in the local economy.
Small businesses are the most important part of the local and national economies, as most Americans work for small businesses – those employing 30 people or fewer. Larger corporations make up the bulk of the country’s gross domestic product, but small businesses keep people employed, Sumell said.
Goldberg’s Bodygoodies, 4501 Belmont Ave., has a small staff but a global reach. Her soaps are shipped nationally as far as California and internationally to Europe and Asia, despite having just two full-time employees.
Unlike most traditional small businesses, Goldberg’s shop started as a small store on Etsy – an online marketplace for artisan goods – before moving to a physical location. She estimates her online sales now make up only 30 percent of her businesses.
“I have people come from all over to visit the shop and see the soaps and just chat with me about healthy living,” Goldberg said. “We have regular customers who drive from Akron and Cleveland, and I’ve even had someone come out from California to talk to me in person about allergen issues.”
Like many businesses, Bodygoodies was started as a way to fill a need in the market. Goldberg went into anaphylactic shock after an experience with a product she was allergic to, prompting her to make her own soap so she could always be sure of its ingredients.
From there, her sister persuaded her to begin selling her toxin- and allergen-free soaps on Etsy. Her business exploded, and she eventually signed a distribution deal with Whole Foods, which she eventually had to terminate due to the expanding local demand for her product.
Goldberg managed to jump a hurdle that many regional small businesses stumble over: a shrinking consumer population.
Declining population, Sumell said, as well as the generally low wages earned on average across the Mahoning Valley are major obstacles for small businesses operating locally.
Goldberg knows the truth of the latter; she could sell her bars for significantly more money if she were in a wealthier market, such as California. Due to her steadfast refusal to compromise on her ingredients, her profit margins on soaps sold locally are slim. Lucky for her, those Californian buyers are only a click away.
The National Retail Federation predicts online purchases will increase between 6 percent and 8 percent this holiday shopping season, generating an estimated $105 billion.
Gil Goldberg – no relation to Heidi – district director of the Small Business Administration’s Cleveland office, said that practically every small business is trying to move into the national market via e-commerce.
“Some small businesses have told us the only reason they’re still operating is thanks to their online sales,” Gil Goldberg said. The SBA helps new ventures to overcome stumbling blocks by providing a range of services, including loans, loan guarantees and counseling services.
According to figures provided by the SBA, over the last five years the government body has issued or guaranteed 145 small-business loans in Youngstown. These loans can vary in size from $15,000 to $5 million.
Alongside their stated services, the SBA also regularly promotes small business, doubling down on calls to “shop small” for Small Business Saturday.
“Small Business Saturday puts a focus on small merchants who really are the pillars of the community,” Gil Goldberg said. “The big-box stores serve a need in society, but so do the small businesses, and it’s important we support them in that need.”
At least in the case of Bodygoodies, the public’s support for shopping local couldn’t be more apparent.
Looking over nearly 1,200 pounds of newly finished soap, Heidi Goldberg shook her head in subtle disappointment.
“I should have made more,” she said. “I’m going to sell out on Saturday for sure.”