RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — During what has been a difficult time for many, local businesses in greater Richmond are banking on their biggest shopping day of the year: Small Business Saturday.
“The last few years, just as a small-business retailer in general, has been interesting, to say the least, because the internet has really driven a lot of sales for primarily like the big-box stores and those brands that you normally see. So as a small-business retailer, it’s already been a struggle,” Trend owner Kim Moody said. “During COVID, people’s buying habits completely changed and shifted, and everybody suddenly got more comfortable — as if they weren’t already comfortable — buying online.”
Moody open the first Trend location in 2011 in Blackstone, and has been at the second Trend location in Henrico for about 18 months. When businesses faced mandatory closures at the first height of the coronavirus pandemic, she says it was a struggle to cover fixed costs like rent.
“And then the merchandise is sitting, is getting older,” Moody said. “We’ve taken a 60 percent hit year-to-date right now over last year. And again, like we said, last year wasn’t great.”
In order to keep up with changing consumer habits and compete with larger retailers, Trend has expanded its online presence.
“We don’t have the margins the big-box stores do, we don’t have the markups they do,” Moody said. “But we’re kind of in that same space, trying to be competitive and just hoping that people, out of the goodness of their heart, are going to shop with small businesses this holiday.”
Little Nomad owner Anthony Bryant has taken a similar approach. His children’s store on Broad Street opened in December 2017.
“This year has been hard for us, and it made us look at our business in different ways,” Bryant said. “We were, fortunately, set up online already. We already had that business going, so that was more so of me in those early shutdown months of really diving into that business and really trying to hone in on those different pieces of it. Online is a whole other world.”
Bryant says that he sees a silver lining in all of the challenges this year has delivered.
“We continued to be shut down due to the protests that came through the area, so we really had to be on our toes,” Bryant said. “We’ve had to work for it a lot, but we are doing okay. Lights are on, rent is paid, all of that good stuff, and we’re still able to stock the store with great stuff for folks. So in this year, I would definitely consider that a win.”
According to Diana McMahon with the Retail Merchants Association (RMA), it is.
“The vibrant and beautiful community that we have wouldn’t exist without these local businesses,” McMahon said. “And if we want to see them sustain through this, we really have to make sure that we’re supporting them through it.”
McMahon works as RMA’s Marketing and Membership Manager, and she says that 68 cents of every dollar spent at a local business stays in the community, which is significantly more than how much stays locally when shopping at a big-box store.
“I think that there’s still a lot of opportunity to have the same convenience and ease of shopping that people are used to, but doing it in a way that supports our local businesses,” McMahon said. “Because if we don’t do that, there is going to be a lot of change and we’ll see some of our favorite businesses not open their doors again, and that would be a really tragic thing for our community to have.”
Small Business Saturday is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and although local retailers need all the consumer support they can get, health and safety are at the forefront of the buying experience in 2020.
“We’ve got plexiglass at both registers for a safer shopping experience. The hand sanitizer stations, we have, as well, at the register. Everything is marked where you have six feet of distance from the person in front of you, and we’re wiping down the iPad in between times,” Moody said. “None of us have a medical background, and it’s just like, ‘What can we do to do our part to keep everybody safe?'”
Little Nomad has a limit of five people in the store at a time, which Bryant says offers shoppers an opportunity to explore the rest of downtown Richmond.
“If there is a store that has a capacity like ours, you know, five-person capacity, you can take a little time to kind of walk around a few blocks, see a few things, just kind of get reacclimated to the area,” Bryant said. “It’s not only the shops, it’s not only the restaurants, but we’ve got great art down here, great street art.”
While Richmond-area businesses are taking additional precautions to protect customers and employees, online shopping remains the safest option, but that doesn’t mean turning to a big-box store for purchases.
Little Nomad will be offering free shipping on everything Friday and Saturday. Bryant also says that a portion of each transaction will be donated to the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief fund in Richmond.
“We want to make sure that this is kind of a cyclical thing and we want folks to know that their dollars are at work, not only within our business, but within this community, as well,” Bryant said. “We’re just going to try to pay that forward, donate a few dollars. Hopefully that grows and grows.”
At Trend, Moody is continuing the holiday gift registry offering that has been popular for several years at the Blackstone location. Customers can make selections of gifts they would like to receive and the clerks at Trend will keep a record of those items for loved ones to reference when doing their holiday shopping.
“We’ve done it in Richmond since we’ve been here, but I don’t think it’s really caught on,” Moody said. “We’re going to look out for them and make sure they get what Santa needs to bring them this year. We do our best to connect on a small scale.”
Trend also sells its merchandise via Amazon and Facebook Marketplace, in addition to offering delivery and curbside pickup options.
“Shopping small, in general, is super critical,” Moody said. “Small businesses employ more than half the American workforce, so without the small businesses, a lot of jobs are lost, and I don’t think our state or any others are prepared for the kind of hit that that will take.”
McMahon says that, over the years, small businesses have given back to the community in a multitude of ways. Now, it’s time for the community to give back to them.
“They’re employing our neighbors, they are supporting the charities that are important to our community, and they’re doing so much to give back, and right now, they really need us,” McMahon said. “It’s been a really drastic hit.”
Moody, who also works as a wedding planner, says the economic hit has not been isolated to local retailers.
“No matter whether it’s retail or any other business, restaurant, whatever, this has been the most brutal year any of us have had,” Moody said. “We’ve been self-employed through a lot of national catastrophes and things like that, but nothing has ever gone on this long, so it’s just a really, really critical time in order to keep small businesses open.”
While Moody hopes customers will show their support this Small Business Saturday, for Trend, it’s not just about bringing in revenue.
“We’re so excited to be an official drop-off donation for Toys for Tots,” Moody said. “You can drop off your toys at our location — either location, really, Blackstone or here, in Henrico at the Shops at River Road — and we will be happy to take it up to the 20th of December. If any trickle in after that, we’ll get them disbursed locally through churches here in Henrico.”
In downtown Richmond, Bryant says he’s starting to see the spirit of the season come alive, as well.
“I think that the local and the shop-small kind of energy has been ramping up and allowed communities all over to really start taking a different look at who they really had in their backyard,” Bryant said. “The money is kind of counted on, but it’s more than the money; it still really is about that community and what we have here to offer.”