We first visited the buy local movement about a year ago, and since then it has grown, even as the economy has declined. Small businesses today are banding together in even greater numbers than ever before to promote the idea of buying from local businesses. Detractors of this movement, mostly those who have a stake in national and international economics or who feel that having cash circulating through the local economy is just not that important, claim that the buy local movement offers little in terms of economic growth. Supporters, however, point out that keeping wealth circulating within the local economy helps to mitigate the very real damage being done as the national and international economies continue to spiral down to collapse.
How Buy Local Networks Function
At the heart of the movement is the following value proposition:
Spending at local businesses, rather than at chain stores, big box retailers or online, helps the local economy because local businesses are more likely to buy from local suppliers and hire local service providers to meet their needs. This means that the jobs supported by that local spending stay in the community along with the profits, which remain with local business owners who spend in the community instead of sending the money to out-of-state owners or shareholders.
The point of it all is that by helping local businesses, you are really helping your friends, neighbors and community. More than that, you are minimizing the interaction with the greater national economy and so are insulating your community as much as possible from the damage being done in Washington and Wall Street. However, to make this work, you have to educate your customer base.
According to Jeff Milchen, the founder of the first Buy Local movement in the late 1990s, most successful buy local campaigns share three main elements:
They educate consumers about the value of independent businesses in the community.
They jointly promote shopping at those businesses through advertising, coupon books, shop- local weeks, and other efforts.
They give independent owners a unified voice in government and media.
That is a lot of work for the already harried small business owner, When starting one of these networks, a lot of energy is spent in recruitment, developing marketing materials and logos, and beginning the process of educating the public, but it is worth it. Numbers and anecdotal evidence indicate that it is. According to the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, independent retailers in cities with buy-local campaigns saw holiday sales fall 3.2% from the prior year, while those in cities with no such movements recorded a 5.6% drop. Other experts point to employment benefits and increased return on investment.
Buy Local From the Consumer End
Percentages and economic theory aside, there are a number of important, if intangible, reasons why consumers choose to buy from local stores, reasons that have nothing to do with price. Some may care about a vibrant downtown, others like the personalized service and still others enjoy the fact that store has local character. Doing business locally is not about price and it is really not about having every choice in the world available. It is about being attached to the community, doing business with friends and neighbors and making the place they live better and more prosperous.
Joining (or Starting) a Buy Local Network
If this seems like a good fit for you and your business, there are a number of sources and organizations that can help you locate a buy local network in your area or get you started on the road to building one of your own.
American Independent Business Alliance
Business Alliance for Local Living Economies
Institute for Local Self-Reliance