Did you hear?...Small business more optimistic; AmEx ‘Small Business Saturday’ may help

The Small Business Optimism Index rose slightly in October, and AmEx launches a promotion to build traffic to small businesses.
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Small business owners appear to be in a slightly better mood these days, as the Small Business Optimism Index nudged up 2.7 points in October to 91.7, according to a recent statement by the National Federation of Independent Business, which runs the index.

And some specialty retailers are feeling the creep upward:

“We’re very optimistic for the coming holiday season as we are finally seeing consistent traction in our sales and margin,” said Mike Plante, general manager of the Travel Country outdoor specialty store in Altamonte Springs, Fla. “I can say, in a state that was especially hard hit during the latest economic downturn, we feel like this holiday season could be much better than last year.”

But it’s still not all good news. Although the Optimism Index rose, it “remains in recession territory,” the NFIB (www.nfib.com) said in a Nov. 9 statement. “Consumer spending and consumer sentiment remain weak, indicating that top line growth on Main Street will remain sluggish.”

One recently announced promotion by American Express could help, even in a small way. The company has created “Small Business Saturday” for the weekend after Thanksgiving Day.

"This is the start of a movement," said Kenneth Chenault, American Express CEO, who joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference Nov. 8 to announce the effort. Chenault said large retailers have Black Friday and online retailers have Cyber Monday, and now small businesses will have their own day too. 

Chenault said the first 10,000 small business owners who sign up to participate will get $100 worth of Facebook advertising. And American Express will give a $25 credit to 100,000 of its cardholders who say they will use their cards at independent businesses on Nov. 27.

Click here to see more about the promotion and how you as a business owner or consumer can participate. 

Despite the ups and downs of late – and any possible momentum from the AmEx promotion – the index showed positive trends. Capital spending over the past six months rose two points to 47 percent of all companies, and the expected sales index rose 4 percentage points. There was also an 11-percent increase in the number of companies that expect business conditions to improve in the next six months.

But not all specialty retailers are seeing much upward motion…yet:

“As for optimism in the coming year? I do have some because of the changes in Washington,” said Rodney Rice Jr., president of specialty fitness retailer Fitness Expo in Metairie, La. “But I don't see anything retail-wise improving yet.

“October was extremely soft for our retail. It is easy to have a good week, and then the next two weeks, you’re dead. That is what I am seeing and I have had others tell me the same. The reality though is that until customers feel good about financing again, I think it will stay very soft.”

--Marcus Woolf and Therese Iknoian

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