When shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna brought Small Business Saturday to the UK last year he never thought in his “wildest dreams” it would have the impact it has.
Chuka Umunna believes the UK has a "rich and diverse" business community
As a concept which first began in the US and was championed by the Barack Obama administration, Small Business Saturday is set for its second UK outing – in an effort to celebrate the efforts of smaller companies and SMEs across Britain.
The annual day has its roots in the shopping period at the beginning of December, a change of scene from Black Friday and Digital Monday at the end of November which see consumers flocking to big retailers in the hope of similarly big discounts.
It was while taking a bus ride in his local constituency of Streatham that shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna first picked up on Small Business Saturday, through the medium of Twitter. Seeing well-known personalities such as female tennis player Serena Williams commenting on it and urging followers to support their local small businesses in the US, Umunna saw it as a “no brainer” for the UK.
His first requirement was getting the business community to buy into the concept. “I brought together all the principle small business organisations, and said I’ve got this idea – and they immediately jumped on it,” Umunna told Real Business.
The MP had three key rules for Small Business Saturday which hold true to this day. The first is that it must be, and remain, a campaign with small businesses and entrepreneurs at heart, rather than bigger brands using it as a marketing exercise. Umunna believes principle supporter American Express has been very sensitive to this.
Second on his list was that it must be resolutely not party political. He started by gaining support from local authorities of all political persuasions, taking heed from how it had been done in the US where county and then state backing was secured. He got a “positive reaction” from all parties at local level so then found it easier to persuade the powers that be at national level to get on board.
‘The other rule was that it had to be very bottom up, it’s not something you can run out of BIS [Department for Business, Innovations & Skills],’ he added. “We had to provide the tools to make it locally driven, as they need to grab the concept.”
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Looking back on the event in 2013, held on 7 December, Umunna is wildly enthusiastic in his evaluation.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that when I pitched the idea in January 2013 that in five months we would have been able to pull together a massive grass roots movement of people to then make, in December, Small Business Saturday a reality.
“What we know from the research carried out by American Express was that it helped push half a billion pounds worth of extra trade to them the day, with of course the follow-up benefits of people visiting firms for the first time on the day and then returning.’
Held this year on 6 December, Umunna is confident that the initiate can build on last year. With the concept already in the consciousness of a large amount of small businesses, he believes it already has a head start. The campaign now has it’s own staff and office, luxuries that were not available last year, and can get more consumers involved.
One thing Umunna is keen to press to Real Business is that Small Business Saturday need not be limited to bricks and mortar shopping. For those that don’t trade on a Saturday, he’s keen to see consumers engage with online retail.
For larger businesses which might be wondering how an initiative for small businesses is of interest to them, Umunna is quick to point out that the day is very important for them as small businesses make up a big part of supply chains.
“I want to see more high-growth companies, and Small Business Saturday is as much about celebrating SMEs as it is market traders.”
However, the term SME is one Umunna is keen to distance himself from. With such a “rich and diverse” business community, he doesn’t believe SME does justice to the kind of companies starting and growing in today’s economy. So much so that he has banned the use of the description.
When quizzed on whether he thinks movements such as Small Business Saturday can bring about policy change, Umunna separates the two out. “This is not about policy per sey, but recognising the contribution these businesses make.
‘I have lots of policies to help them, such as cutting energy prices, cutting and freezing business rates and reforming the banking system, but that needs government action. This campaign is about what each of us can do.”
For those keen to get involved with Small Business Saturday a “Get Involved” pack can be downloaded form the website. There is also a repeat of the bus tour that journeyed around the country last year, with Umunna set to join up with it in Norwich towards the end of November.
For Umunna there is too much talk of the “American dream” when it comes to business, and he wants to use the likes of Small Business Saturday to push forth the “British dream” – which he believes is even stronger.