Flint, MI—Nov. 27 is Small Business Saturday, and Flint entrepreneurs are preparing to meet an increased demand for “shopping small” brought on by COVID-19.

“I can’t even explain how it took off,” said Donyale Walton of her jewelry company, Hoop Mobb, which she began as a side project in 2019. 

After losing her job during the pandemic, Walton decided to focus full time on Hoop Mobb.

From 2020-2021 her company grew so rapidly that she hired six employees and moved operations from the downtown Ferris Wheel building to a separate warehouse space.

“We just really owe a lot to our customer base in Flint,” she said.

While rising costs and supply chain issues are still concerns for small business owners like Walton, the pandemic’s silver lining may be shoppers’ continued interest in supporting businesses like hers despite those concerns.

In a recent Quickbooks survey of 2,000 U.S. adults, 93% said that “supporting small businesses is more important than ever because of the pandemic,” which sets high expectations for this year’s Small Business Saturday.

However, the same report noted a challenge for small businesses looking to take advantage of increased support: a website.

“E-commerce is extremely important,” said Ebonie Gipson, founder of I’m Building Something Consulting LLC and organizer of Flint Small Business Saturday, now in its fifth year. 

“When it comes down to operations and tech and incorporating a website, that can be overwhelming for some people, especially when you are performing most of the duties of your business on your own,” said Gipson.

Flint Small Business Saturday helps get those entrepreneurs, alongside those who are more established, in front of the Flint community while also providing them consulting services and advice to “maximize the opportunity,” said Gipson.

“I know for some small businesses, they figure, ‘Hey, I’m getting the success that I need with these in-person events.’ But I think if anything we’ve learned in the past year and a half: all of that can change,” said Gipson.

Like Hoop Mobb, Gipson’s Flint Small Business Saturday has grown since its inception. 

After its first year, Gipson became part of the “American Express Neighborhood Champion Program,” developed an online Holiday Guide (featuring e-commerce-based and brick-and-mortar businesses in Flint), and is now putting together a “Small Biz Box” with items from a variety of Flint entrepreneurs for 2021.

“This is our way of putting small businesses first and our way of making sure that consumers and community members have a chance to experience businesses,” said Gipson.

But operating a successful small business during the holiday season takes more than just managing a website and showing up to an in-person event.

“I think the biggest barrier (for me) is managing inventory,” said Walton of heading into Hoop Mobb’s holiday sales season. “Online, you can’t control the growth…I started prepping really early, like looking at numbers and based on what we’ve done all year, we probably need to stock up this much for the holidays.”

A pair of earrings from Hoop Mobb, a jewelry company founded by Flint entrepreneur Donyale Walton in 2019. (Photo Courtesy Hoop Mobb)

Gipson complemented Walton’s sentiment, saying it’s important Flint’s small businesses owners “be honest about what you can and cannot do” in the face of supply chain concerns.

“You may have to find other products to supplement for some of the things that may be on backorder,” she said, adding that business owners might also consider add-ons and “giftable” items alongside their normal offerings.

“For instance, if you are a service provider. I may not want to buy someone a facial,” she said. “But I may just want to be able to purchase a gift card and allow that person to make the decision on what service they want.” 

Gipson said that regardless of how Flint’s business owners choose to prepare, this upcoming Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity to support them and thereby Flint, as about 67 cents of every dollar spent at a small business remains in the local community.

“We don’t have a lot of spaces of activation on a regular basis for businesses that don’t have brick and mortar spaces,” Gipson said of Flint. “(Small Business Saturday) is a great day to highlight and celebrate small businesses, but the real work happens in how we help maintain those businesses and how we continue to support them the day after.”

Flint Small Business Saturday will be held at Word of Life Christian Church at 460 W. Atherton Road, Flint, MI 48502 from 12pm-5pm on Saturday, Nov. 27.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....