Small Business Saturday promotes shopping local during the holiday season

 Bill Hellebuyck, owner of Hellebuyck’s Power Equipment Center, sells everything from lawn mowers to garden tools at his stores in Shelby Township and Warren.

Bill Hellebuyck, owner of Hellebuyck’s Power Equipment Center, sells everything from lawn mowers to garden tools at his stores in Shelby Township and Warren.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


By: Joshua Gordon, Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published November 21, 2017

 Hellebuyck and his family started the business in 1974.

Hellebuyck and his family started the business in 1974.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

 Randy Norman, owner of Eli of Troy Menswear, stands before an impressive selection of shirts available at the shop.

Randy Norman, owner of Eli of Troy Menswear, stands before an impressive selection of shirts available at the shop.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 On Small Business Saturday, Nov. 25, Eli of Troy Menswear, on Rochester Road —  which sells everything from shoes and fragrances to varsity jackets for local schools — will offer sales on nearly everything.

On Small Business Saturday, Nov. 25, Eli of Troy Menswear, on Rochester Road — which sells everything from shoes and fragrances to varsity jackets for local schools — will offer sales on nearly everything.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

METRO DETROIT — In 1974, Hellebuyck’s Power Equipment Center started because Bill Hellebuyck’s mother wanted his father, also named Bill, to get all of his lawn mower and bicycle repair equipment out of the garage and off the lawn.

Since then, Hellebuyck’s has become a staple in the Shelby Township and Warren communities, thanks to attention to customer service and a deep knowledge of the products they sell, Hellebuyck said.

“Usually, once a customer comes in and has a buying experience with a small shop like ours, we become their go-to place,” Hellebuyck said. “They know what to expect and know they will be taken care of, and we will steer them in the right direction.”

Hellebuyck’s will be among the many local small businesses looking to welcome holiday shoppers during Small Business Saturday on Nov. 25. The shopping holiday was created seven years ago by American Express.

According to the 2016 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, around 112 million Americans took to local stores on last year’s Small Business Saturday and they spent around $15.4 billion while they were there. That’s an increase of about 13 percent from the number of people who shopped on the Saturday in 2015.

The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that Michigan had more than 866,000 small businesses that employed 1.8 million people in 2014. The administration reports that between 53 percent and 62 percent of employment in Macomb County is by small businesses.

Hellebuyck said that between the two store locations, his business employs 25 part-time and full-time employees.

In 2006, the company started looking for more warehouse space and found the location at Mound and 13 Mile roads in Warren. 

Hellebuyck said he thought the Warren location would do small lawn mowers and handheld weed whips when it opened, but it has blossomed into mostly commercial business.

The goal was always to grow, Hellebuyck said, and while national brands like The Home Depot and Lowe’s may sell similar products, Hellebuyck said they aren’t experts in their products like his staff is. Hellebuyck’s sells everything from lawn mowers and snow blowers to chainsaws, garden tools and power washers.

“The problem with big national retailers is they only carry popular models, and they don’t really give you a selection,” he said. “They don’t have people dedicated to the industry, and they don’t know all the options that are available to the customer. We are schooled in all different units, and because we service them, we know their capabilities.”

Hellebuyck said that often, the big national stores will in fact send customers to his store if they have a problem with a piece of equipment that both stores sell and the national store can’t help the customer.

And while the national stores may sometimes have slightly better base prices on equipment, Hellebuyck said he will assemble and deliver machines, test them and put gas in them, putting the whole package at a better price from his stores.

He also hopes people see that Hellebuyck’s is part of the community and contributes to things that affect his neighbors.

“Local businesses pay taxes in the community, and that supports local teams and schools,” Hellebuyck said. “If you lose that foundation of our economy, that is a long-term loss. (Small businesses) are the backbone of our whole national economy, and the largest employer.”

Randy Norman, owner of Eli of Troy Menswear on Rochester Road, expects a special package of stickers, bags and other swag to arrive any day now to promote Small Business Saturday.

But it’s no matter. His loyal clientele already knows when Small Business Saturday is, and they’ll be ready to shop.

“It’s always a great day, because American Express lets its customers know about small businesses and asks them to support small businesses,” Norman said. “But the people who come in the door that day don’t come because of that, or even to find a good sale — which we’ll have, of course. They come because they want to support us, because they’ve been supporting us for years.”

The clothier opened in October 1970. Norman was hired in 1979 at 23 years old and worked there under the original owner’s guidance until 1995, when he bought the business. 

“I was his manager for probably 17 years. I always knew I wanted my own menswear store, and when he retired, that’s what I got,” Norman said. 

Through all of the changes the retail scene has experienced over the decades, the customer base remains strong. Norman said it’s no secret why: A good product and great service will take you far.

That, and of course, being able to actually see a product, as opposed to just a photo on a screen.

“I have one customer who ordered a pair of shoes online, and she ordered a 9 1/2, and they sent her a 9, probably because that’s what they had available. And she kept them,” he explained. “Most customers accept what they get because of the hassle of sending something back when you ordered it online. Personally, I’d rather avoid all that and go into a store — touch and feel the product and get what I want, rather than deal with all that. And if there’s something wrong, you go back in and you deal with (a person).”

That personalized service keeps a lot of customers coming back to their local shops, according to Ingrid Tigue, executive director of the Birmingham Shopping District. So it’s not exactly vital for independent retailers to participate in the Small Business Saturday campaign, but it sure is fun.

“Shoppers are encouraged to shop local, and they get to enjoy these extra perks,” Tigue said. “A lot of places will do (contests) or refreshments. And we’re offering our free valet parking beginning that day for the rest of the holiday season.”

While the incentives are great, Norman is always careful not to reserve the deals for just Small Business Saturday — he’ll be hosting sales from Friday, Nov. 24, through Monday, Nov. 27, with deals like $100 off all suits, 25-50 percent off sweaters, discounts on shoes and more. After all, the customers who support his store don’t reserve their loyalty for just one day a year.

“I want to make sure the person who gets up at 6 a.m. to shop on Small Business Saturday gets the same deal as the customer who’s been coming … for years and happens to come in later that afternoon,” he said. 

Grace Shore, CEO of the Macomb County Chamber of Commerce, said Small Business Saturday has grown in popularity locally as businesses promote it in stores and on social media. 

In Macomb County, Shore said, she has seen growth in small businesses for the last 10 years, even during the recession. As people got let go from corporate jobs, they took the opportunity to start a business servicing something they were passionate about.

Shore thinks the more options, the better for local customers.

“The new trend is to shop local, shop small, and I think people see the value in investing in your community when you shop local and shop small,” she said. “Every business looks forward to the holiday season, as that is where some of them make most of their sales.”