Volume 28/Number 3; July 21/28, 2014
By Amanda Haskin
The belief that one should support local businesses is certainly not breaking news. We all know this, and there are countless reasons why. At the most basic level, shopping locally cultivates a sense of pride in one’s community, keeps more money in the local economy, creates local jobs and supports environmental sustainability.
As more big businesses rise up, we lament over this spreading homogenization and the loss of small-town values and personalized customer service. It is the job of small businesses to restore these values to their communities.
Big businesses often tout lower prices and buying convenience, but many people are beginning to recognize that these are short-term benefits with costly long-term side effects. A study commissioned by Chicago’s Andersonville Chamber of Commerce and the Andersonville Development Corp. shows that for every $100 spent at local businesses, $68 remains in the Chicago economy, while for every $100 spent at a chain, only $43 remains. On a larger scale, if every family in the U.S. spent $10 extra a month at local businesses instead of national chains, over $9.3 billion would be returned to our economy.
There are many efforts being taken to make shopping locally more commonplace, like the government-instituted Small Business Saturday each November. In addition, local communities host their own go-local events, many with the help of the American Independent Business Alliance, a non-profit organization that helps communities launch buy-local campaigns and forward pro-local policies.
We all know how to shop locally, but how do you, as a business owner, facilitate this process of localization? How do you encourage members of the community to shop locally, and how do you support local businesses within your own business?
“Smaller businesses are often more nimble, faster to jump on trends and in closer touch with their customers’ needs and wants than their larger competitors,” said Mary Liz Curtin, a small business owner from Detroit. “While we indies cannot compete on price, the relationships we build with our customers, the service we offer and the careful selection of offerings keep us in business.”
Customer service is the edge that small businesses have over big companies, and it can be used to entice customers to make the decision to shop locally. Sam O’Krent, owner of O’Krent’s Abbey Floor Covering in San Antonio, knows this is the way to acquire and keep customers. “It’s important they know that if any issues ever do come up on a job, my office is right here for them to come in and sit down. When you’re talking about big box stores or major retailers, having something taken care of is not always the easiest.”
The key is letting your existing and potential clients understand your small business values and involvement in the community. “We make sure all of our customers know we are a locally owned and operated, 100-year-old company,” O’Krent added. “We have been supporters of the San Antonio community forever. We sit on the boards of numerous local non-profits, and the many organizations we support are touted on our website.”