It’s sure a busy time of year. In addition to Christmas parties and programs, we spend time shopping for that perfect gift. And do we spend money! In fact, Christmas is typically the largest economic stimulus for many nations around the world as sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas. It is estimated that about 20% of retail sales each year is as a result of the Christmas shopping season.
So, if you have not yet finished your holiday shopping — or, like me, haven't even started it — then I would like to suggest a challenge. Forget about Internet shopping. Close the browser window that’s open to Amazon, eBay, etc. Put on your boots and coat and head out to locally owned businesses. Step into a store. Exchange greetings with the store owner who you probably already know. Relax. This is supposed to be the time of year to give thanks and praise. It should be fun and enjoyable.
When you stop in to the local hardware store, repair shop, hair salon, or jewelry store, it’s nice to know that someone working there knows your name. We all love going “where everybody knows your name” just like the theme song of the long ago television show “Cheers” suggests.
Find a gift for a family member or friend, something that you can actually touch and feel and know exactly what you’re getting. All your questions about that item can be answered on the spot. Hand over your money, placing it in the hands of that local business owner. Remember, this person lives within your own community. He or she has worked tirelessly to open this business and to keep it afloat in an unpredictable economy. This person dedicates long hours to finding and ordering products, stocking shelves, and fending off competition from the big box stores and the Internet.
This person is grateful to you for your business because it makes a difference, unlike the giant retailers for whom your dollars are mere drops in the ocean. This person relies on your purchase to cover rent, to put food on the table, to pay off a house, to buy a new snowsuit for a child. Tell people where you shopped. Promote the stores, encourage others to go there, spread the word. Feel satisfied about the fact that you’ve redirected your own hard-earned money into the hands of other hard-working local business owners.
When you shop at your locally owned businesses, your dollars are voting for your community success and for small business success. Yes, you are “voting with your wallet”. In general, for every $100 spent at a locally-owned business, $73 of it remains in the community. This has a direct impact on everyone (you and your family) in that area. Shopping at home stimulates the local economy. When you shop at home you are creating and retaining jobs in your community, funding more city services through sales tax, and promoting community development. Locally owned businesses recycle a large share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community. When small businesses experience growth, they are able to expand their goods and services, making an even larger selection available closer to home.
Local business and their employees invest back into the community. They give back to the community by volunteering their time at non-profit events, coaching sports teams, sponsoring activities and projects, etc. This directly benefits you, your friends, your family and your neighbors. In many ways, the dollars you spend locally are returned to you. Think about the last time big box stores supported events in your town. Can’t think of any? Then maybe I’ve made my point. I can’t tell you how many times I have local business owners tell me they have been approached to donate for or sponsor a local project by a person who does not shop locally or has never made a purchase in their business. If you want your local businesses to support your community efforts, then you better get out there and support your local businesses.
Generally, local merchants will be more accommodating. When shopping at home you are often greeted by the owner, your neighbor or your friend, who shows gratitude by providing personal customer service every time; meaningful customer service with a personal touch because it matters to them that you are satisfied and will come back.
And personal service can even carry across the miles. You can often order online through a locally owned business. I have placed orders to a small boutique in my hometown and have received personal messages, both hand written and emailed, that make me feel like my purchase made a difference, and so even though I am not right there, I still get that personal attention. So after you have looked in your community and you can’t find what you want in your own town, seek out locally owned businesses in other communities.
Because I have the opportunity to travel across the state for my job, I seek out locally owned business and am so impressed by the variety of items offered. It seems like when shopping in big box stores, everything starts to look the same. The treasures are found in the small businesses, whether it is the item you find, or the conversations you have with the owner. It is so enjoyable to visit with the owners and employees of small businesses. The atmosphere is often more relaxing, I don’t have to try to search out someone who knows something about the products, and there usually aren’t long lines at checkout!
Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be something unique about growing up in a small town that gravitates you toward shopping locally. Whether it’s pride, duty or genuine support of a friend or family member, knowing your dollar has gone to not only a community member, but a business owner you trust makes every purchase that much more special.
Yes, there are many foods, services and other items that you could buy at a chain business. When you need any of these, I recommend you first consider buying them at a locally-owned business in your very own community. You’ll get as good or better quality, quite likely better service, in most cases competitive prices, and you’ll be supporting people who live in, and care about, your community.
None of us like losing our local shops or services but often we don’t equate this to how we spend our money. Every time we make an out of town purchase that could have been purchased locally, especially at a big box store, we are supporting large corporations that are not truly invested in our (or really any) community. And by the time you factor your time, your gas, or postage for returns, do you really save that much? And is it worth sacrificing our local businesses and our local community by doing that?
Michael Shuman, author of Going Local and the Small-Mart Revolution, has written, “Going local does not mean walling off the outside world. It means nurturing locally owned businesses…It means becoming more self-sufficient. Control moves from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back into the community where it belongs.”
Remember the impact your dollars have on your local community. Shopping and doing business at home is all it takes to improve and grow the community we love, live in, work in and that gives back to us. Gather your friends or family members and get out in your community. Support local shops this holiday shopping season and into the New Year. I know I will.
Remember, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came; you want to be where you can see the troubles are all the same, you want to be where everybody knows your name.”