Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, believes there’s a growing sense that the big corporate economy no longer works. “There is this larger, cultural shift … to buy local,” she said. And Ms. Mitchell is correct. More often than not, if a community has an active chamber of commerce or business association you will probably see a “buy local” campaign. But why should we care? How does it help Vermilion?
This movement gained momentum during the recession. Ironically, instead of tightening our belts and saving a few bucks wherever we could, many communities, including those in Vermilion, rallied together and redirected their money inward. Media campaigns, after-hours events, organized business “strolls,” discount programs, and sales are just a few ways we see “buy local” take shape. These ideas usually stem from the common assumption that buying things locally has a high multiplier effect. The logic is that spending one dollar in your community goes further and stays in your respective town or city longer than spending a dollar elsewhere. And that spending your hard-earned income in an independent store (versus a chain store) has similar benefits.
Well these assumptions are true. Think about it this way, with every local business comes the need for more services – legal, accounting, marketing and other professional services – as well as resources. These resources can range anywhere from food for restaurants, to wood for construction projects. Businesses often choose to supply their needs locally because of cost and convenience, essentially building their fellow entrepreneurs, too! Add to that the impact on tax base, utilities, and available jobs and your community benefits much more when you can find your products and services close to home. Civic Economics, a private research firm, has done study after study to mathematically monitor the independent-business-versus-chain-store question. As far as economic return was concerned, chain stores typically recirculate less than 15% of their earnings, while independents returned nearly 50%.
So, if it’s such a no brainer, why doesn’t everyone shop local? As noble as we would all like to think we are, people (especially in uncertain times) still want quality, variety, and cost effectiveness. In a society where it’s cheaper and easier to buy something online than run down the street, communities will need to overcome these hurdles. And businesses, most importantly, will need to remain competitive. How?
- Educate yourself on cost-saving programs and opportunities (like those I mentioned above),
- Create a solid public relations strategy and exercise it regularly,
- Build relationships with your clientele, if they’re investing in you, you should invest in them,
- Be fair with your prices – to you and your consumers – people are happy to pay more for something that is worth more. Think outside the box,
- And simply be better. Yes, be better. Differentiate yourself from your competition – go the distance to make sure your customers can recognize and (and repeat) your values.
So consumers, think long and hard about the way you shop. Is that five-dollar-off coupon worth the 30-minute drive? Is there someone around the parish that offers the same services? Let them give you a quote! Can you share your positive and negative experience with local business owners to help them shape their business model moving forward? You are a part of the engine that keeps our economy alive, and we all need to work together to build a better Vermilion.
Own a company and anxious to stay competitive? Vermilion Economic Development Alliance and the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce actively seek out opportunities for you to learn and grow. Stay tuned to our upcoming events via Facebook and our websites (developvermilion.org and vermilionchamber.org).