American Express Co. is largely viewed as an upscale charge card company, but it’s increasingly on the pulse of what’s going on with small business.
With the holidays approaching, AmEx will focus on small merchants who’ll take in billions of dollars in sales charged on American Express cards. Susan Sobbott, who heads the company’s small-business operation, American Express Open, says that based on what she’s seeing, the holidays may not be the most robust for small retailers, but stores should show sales gains compared with last year.
Sobbott is frank about why AmEx is interested in small business: A thriving company is more likely to be an AmEx customer and use its charge and credit cards.
AmEx started its small-business operation in 1987 as American Express Small Business Services, and in 2002 renamed it American Express Open. Sobbott, in her job since 2004, oversees several programs. Best known is Small Business Saturday, a campaign designed to get consumers to shop at independent retailers and other small businesses the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Sobbott spoke recently with the Associated Press about AmEx and small businesses. Here are excerpts:
Q. What are you doing differently for Small Business Saturday?
A. We’re trying to make the program, while it’s run on a national scale, feel very relevant at a local and neighborhood level. We’ve created a program what we call an ambassador program. We’ve recruited leaders around the country to organize a bunch of retailers, or work with their chamber of commerce to have specific events of their own. We have over 1,000 communities that have enrolled. For consumers, we will have a $10 credit for spending that day at a small business, including retailers, restaurants and consumer services.
Q. What’s your sense of how small businesses, and in particular, small retailers, are doing?
A. Small businesses today in general are healthier than their ancestors because they’ve survived the recession, the demands of cost-cutting and ambivalent if not reticent consumers.
Q. American Express is often viewed as an upper-class company. What can small-business owners expect from AmEx?
A. It’s not only for paying for cabs and hotels if you’re traveling. It’s often paying for your inventory. We’re doing our best to ensure that our card members have the ability to use the card for large purchases. It’s providing you that short-term float that many businesses need.