Friday, November 18, 2011

Meditations on Buying Local...

BUY LOCAL - you hear this everywhere right?  Save our local economy!  It's pervasive.  There are facebook and LinkedIn groups devoted to the idea, politicians throw the issue around to try to make each other look better than the opponent knowing that it's an emotional hot button for their constituents, businesses remind you at every turn almost as a sales pitch to get you to come in and buy something in their store.  You start to become numb to it.

Listen - it's certainly an important issue to us being a local business ourselves but I like to keep these posts a bit lighter and more fun.  I don't want to be a downer and I certainly don't want to get on a soap box to beat you over the head again to shop local.....  (hmmmm wait Doug - this isn't a typical light fun Frameable Faces blog post - seems you already went there).   Sorry.  Big exhale..... Okay - I'm just gonna go with it then.  But I'm going to try to make it as painless as possible.

The fact is there were three different things that put this in my head this week in particular which is why I'm thinking about it and felt the need to blog about it. The first thing happened at our last Orchard Mall tenants meeting.  One of our fellow tenants alerted all of us to a project and website called The 3/50 Project whose mission is to strengthen independent brick and mortar businesses.  What I like about this is that it appears to be a very sensible and practical call to action.  The "3/50" part refers to the suggestion that everyone pick out 3 local businesses they would miss if they closed and commit to spending $50 per month collectively at those businesses.  The studies suggest that for every 100 dollars spent at a local business 68 of them return to the community.  For every 100 spent at a national chain only 43 stays here, and for every 100 spent online none of it stays here.  Makes you think.

The second thing happened in Birmingham the other day while we were there photographing a senior.  We drove past the Varsity Shop which is a sporting goods store that has been there since I was a kid.  It is a small corner store that certainly would seem to be a relic from a bygone era when you compare it to stores like Dick's and The Sports Authority not to mention Target, Meijer, Wal-Mart and all the other big box stores who sell sporting goods.  I don't know the people at the Varsity Shop and I haven't been in there forever.  I don't know what they specialize in and I have no stake in spotlighting them, but my point is when I pondered how they've managed to stay in business when so many others couldn't it dawned on me - they certainly didn't do it because I shop there.   I felt a pang of guilt - I have good memories of that place and they deserve better from me.  Now to totally beat myself up over this isn't fair because I do buy local - a lot.  And with online commerce and the economies of scale that a Target or a Costco brings to the table I'd be nuts to not make sure I looked for the best deals from time to time as we try to support our family with a still-young business in this wonderful economy of ours.  Indeed, the 3/50 Project doesn't suggest you stop buying from chains, they just suggest that you make sure your healthy balance includes a helping of local merchants.  I personally think I can do better and I'm going to buy something from the Varsity Shop when I get a chance.  Meanwhile the Orchard Mall is filled with many local merchants.  We've got a Panera here sure (love their breakfast power sandwich - hold the ham, extra egg), but we've also got a couple local eateries, a very cool local toy store, a couple boutiques, a linen store, clothing stores, a bridal couture, a dance studio, a locally based supermarket chain, a jeweler, a gift shop, a few spa/salons - all local.  Most of the businesses here are local and not many malls can say that.

The third thing that happened was we received a nice thank you gift from a Michigan based company we order our albums from called Finao (the link is to their blog and much of it is targeted at their clients who are professional photography studios like us - lots of shop talk).  This made us feel great and appreciated - this company really gets it.  A very inspiring move on their part.  It makes us happy to do business with such a great company and it gives us even greater comfort that they are based in Michigan and everything they produce is made from stuff made in the USA.  This is not by accident - we have always made a point of using local vendors for the business wherever possible and most of our vendors - our framer, our printer, our canvas folks and many others are based in Michigan.

So, I suppose if I had to give myself a grade with an "A" representing a full commitment to spending as many of my dollars as possible with local businesses (within reason), and being conscious of it whenever I make my choices of what to purchase, I would probably give myself a "B".  I can do better.  What about you?

3 comments:

Jamie Westman said...

Thanks for this poignant piece on what IS an important issue. It's perfect timing for the upcoming "Small Business Saturday" movement as well. We've also recently written a blog post about Buying Local as it's very important to the way we run our business and to our customers who are almost exclusively small business owners.

http://www.finaoonline.com/finaoblog/?p=494

Thanks again for your support!!

Jamie Westman
Finao Albums

Doug said...

Thank you for the feedback Jamie!

Anonymous said...

Local businesses have never been better at providing A+ customer service. THEY HAVE TO or they'll lose business to the big box or internet. I may spend a little more $ when shopping local but I sure do feel better knowing that the local business stays around for the long term.