Friday, November 16, 2007

Now Hiring?

I’m on a mission. That mission is to make people more aware of the impact of shopping locally. That is why I joined America Unchained, a national campaign of the American Business Alliance, which will be taking place tomorrow, Saturday November 17th. The goal is to encourage citizens to do any business they plan to do on that day only at locally owned independent businesses. Many people do not realize the impact this would have on their entire community. Only 13% of dollars spent with chains circulates locally, while 45% of dollars spent with hometown businesses circulates locally* . In a small town, such as the one where we live and work, many people drive to other cities half an hour or more away to do their shopping in the malls and discount stores. Leaving the county to shop or shopping online helps our community even less.

In order to show the impact shopping locally would have on our community, I decided to use the actual dollar amounts instead of just the percentages. To get those numbers, I contacted the executive director of our county’s Economic Development Corporation. This is where the story gets interesting.

He believes part of a shop locally effort should address a few issues, which I will now attempt to do.

1. The hours that the local businesses are open vs. the work location of their customers. “…For example, a mechanic or dry cleaner that closes at noon for lunch will not get customers to come in on their lunch hour. A business that closes at 5:00 won’t see people that work (outside of our community) until 5:00. There are 6,500 people that leave (our community) each day for work in another community. Some (community) businesses recognize that but most don’t…”

Since I always have something to say, I have two comments to make about this statement. First is the most obvious. 6,500 people leaving our community to work in another is exactly why we should be supporting local businesses. If there were more thriving businesses in our community more jobs would be created and less people would have to go elsewhere to find work. The second is the fact that unlike big box stores, independent businesses, for the most part, do not need to guess at their customers needs. They actually listen to what their customers have to say and adjust their business to those needs to the best of their ability. In short, they open when the customers in the past have shopped and close when the customers leave.

2. “The customer won’t shop here if the retail selection doesn’t meet their needs”

Independent businesses are no different than any other business when it comes to this point. The fact is no store can carry every product. Unlike the malls, though, most independent retail stores are willing and able to special order what their customers need. As a bookstore, we can order just about any book in print and have it in the store usually within a week. The orders we place for our customers do affect our future inventory as well. If you, as a customer, stop in our store looking for your favorite author, whom we don’t normally carry since he/she is not a big seller in our area, you can order the book and usually have it within a week. If you stop in to order every time that author comes out with a new book, pretty soon you will no longer have to order. Why? Because we are a small business and we know our customers! Before long we will automatically order that author’s newest book, even if you are the only customer that has ever purchased one, because we know you will be stopping in for it. Do the big box stores do that for only one customer?

3. “ Most customers won’t shop locally just as a matter of community pride”

It will come as no surprise to you that I disagree with this statement as well. Our community recently completed a street scape project to beautify Main Street. What purpose would there be to this type of project other than community pride? Shopping local is about so much more than community pride, though. It is about giving back to the community where we live. It is about helping our police and fire departments, about repairing our roads and keeping our parks beautiful. It is about supporting youth football and little league, giving to the schools and the libraries. Imagine what your community could do with 32% more in their budget!

I believe I addressed all of the issues I was asked to address. Now I have one question of my own which I hope someone out there can answer for me.

If our Executive Director of Economic Development can so easily come up with three reasons why the citizens in our county should NOT support our local businesses, is this really the right person to be in that position?