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Small business owners have positive outlook for 2016 holiday season

Survey highlights optimism for the upcoming holiday shopping season

The holiday season is a period of giving and reflection on the previous months—and a view toward the year ahead. For small business owners, it's also a time for optimism, as the holiday shopping season is often one of their most profitable periods.

Consumer confidence is the highest it's been since the Great Recession, and many small business owners have a holly jolly outlook on the upcoming holiday season. In Chase's 2016 Business Leaders Outlook, 46 percent of the 900 small business owners surveyed said they expect customer spending during the holiday season to increase compared to last year.

It's the happiest time of the year for retailers

According to the Chase survey, 40 percent of small business owners expect the holiday season to start sooner this year compared to last year. That's the case for 3 Vintage Chicks, a vintage furniture, home decor, clothing and jewelry shop in Phoenix, Arizona. The store's owner, Sue Nadeau, says customers are already shopping for Christmas gifts in her store, although she doesn't concentrate on selling holiday decor items.

"How could we compete with a national chain of arts-and-crafts stores?" she asks. "Instead, we will focus on the people setting their dining table for company. We'll have dining tables, hutches, and buffet tables for our customers who are gearing up for entertaining."

Brigid Sullivan, owner of Primp and Blow, a blow dry bar and salon in Phoenix, expects the coming holiday season to be better than last year's. Here's why: "One, because I'm an optimist," she says, "and two, because we've already started getting bookings for Thanksgiving, Christmas and even New Year's Eve."

Online shopping's popularity grows

Small business retailers often offer Cyber Monday deals to attract customers and increase sales. Online shopping is projected to continue growing, with 59 percent of survey respondents expecting much more online shopping and purchasing this holiday season compared to last year.

It's important to remember that online shopping is in its early stages, so some small business owners will need to be patient on growing revenue through this channel. Although 3 Vintage Chicks has a website, Nadeau says online shopping isn't suited to her business. "We did a Cyber Monday sale last year, but it was so much work," she says.

They listed about 50 items for sale on the website. Customers paid via PayPal, then picked up their items in store. With just about every item in the shop being one of a kind, photographing, listing and shipping each unique item wasn't cost-effective.

Extended holiday hours aren't as popular

Only 33 percent of respondents in the Chase survey said they plan to keep their businesses open longer hours this holiday season. Nadeau says she has no plans for extended holiday shopping hours.

"We're already open seven days a week," she says. "We close at 5 p.m. But if someone comes in just before we close, we'll keep the shop open as long as they're there, and maybe a couple more customers will come in during that time."

Nadeau has plans for several special holiday events. Each month, the store hosts a "Chicks Night Out," designed for female shoppers, with music, food, wine and of course lots of shopping. At an upcoming event, a vendor will sell personalized Christmas ornaments. She also hosts an annual charity event to support a local nonprofit dedicated to preventing domestic abuse.

Sullivan, on the other hand, anticipates longer hours on a couple of Primp and Blow's busiest days this holiday season. "We'll definitely have longer hours," she says. "Our biggest days are Thanksgiving Eve and New Year's Eve. We'll be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on those days."

Sharing the holiday spirit with employees

More than 50 percent of small business owners surveyed said they plan to give their employees holiday bonuses this year. Nadeau, however, says the few helpers she has works in exchange for discounted vendor space in the store. She and her husband do most of the work in the business.

Despite high expectations for holiday sales, most small businesses are not planning on hiring additional staff in the coming year. Over the next 12 months, only 27 percent of all small business owners plan to increase the number of full-time employees in their business and 35 percent plan to increase the number of part-time employees.

Hispanic business owners are even more optimistic

Additional survey data found that Hispanic business owners are feeling even more optimistic about the future than non-Hispanic business owners. While 54 percent of all small business owners expect revenue and sales to increase in the coming year, among Hispanic business owners, 87 percent expect revenue and sales to increase.

They also have more plans to expand their workforce by hiring additional staff in the coming year. 42 percent plan to increase the number of full-time employees and 63 percent plan to increase the number of part-time employees.

None of us really knows what lies ahead. Yet, with confident consumers and optimistic business owners it looks like this holiday season may be a very merry one indeed.

View the Fall/Winter 2016 Business Leaders Outlook report for small business here.

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