5 Tips for Shopping Local

[picapp src=”7/0/4/5/Steamboat_Winter_Carnival_2966.jpg?adImageId=6860296&imageId=3461828″ width=”234″ height=”154″ /]Thanks to Phil Reed of  Vacuums and More in Lincoln City, OR for sending me the link to this article from MSN City Guides.  It’ s directed toward your customers.

The article, by John Rossheim,  begins by appealing to shoppers’ civic pride and their desire to help their fellow citizens.  If that doesn’t move them, Rossheim points out that $68 of every $100 spent with local merchants stays in the community compared to just $43 out of $100 when you spend it with a national chain.

The article points to a few “buy local” programs including my personal favorite, the 3/50 Project.  Here are the five tips:

Visit an independent before heading for a big box. The article suggests that the shopper think of one item that could be purchased locally and to scan local advertising before heading out to shop.

Patronize local merchants who add value. Shoppers should consider more than just price when they purchase.  Professional guidance may not be necessary when you buy laundry detergent or toilet paper, but in other cases the expertise of the merchant often more than offsets a slightly higher price, if the price is actually higher.  Often it isn’t.

Hold the plastic and pay cash. The author throws this on in even though he fails to cite an advantage to the shopper.  Of course there’s a big advantage to the merchant if the customer opts to pay cash.

Beware “local-washing”. Some national merchants pretend to be “local” though I can’t imagine anyone would actually fall for it.   If there’s a competitor in your market doing this, I wouldn’t hesitate to point it out both in-store and in my advertising.

RIP Dave Sinclair

Back in July I wrote a post (Salesmanship Part 1) about a Saint Louis car dealer, Dave Sinclair.  Rather than repeat what I wrote in July, I’ll just let you follow the link.

Sadly, Sinclair has passed away today after a long bout with cancer.  I never bought a car from him, but I’ve admired his direct, no b.s. way of selling cars for a long time.  He was never what you’d call politically correct and I imagine that cost him some sales over the years.  Here’s an ad he ran recently that reflects his style and his thoughts on buying American.

He will be missed.

Are There Limits to Buying Locally?

This rather lengthy post originally appeared on February 24, 2009

A regular reader and former coworker emailed me over the weekend with an interesting question about buying locally.  He asked, “At what point is price an issue?” He cited a couple of recent instances where he paid more to buy something locally rather than buying it online.  The price difference wasn’t enough to be a problem, but is there a point where price trumps doing business with a neighbor? It’s not unlike the question, “Can you be a little bit pregnant?”

The question raises still more questions!

Aren’t some mail order businesses run by independent business people? In the past I have written good things about Heather Gorringe and her “Wiggly Wigglers” online gardening business. (A Small Business Owner Who Knows How to Use Social Media. A Big Award for Wiggly Wigglers) You can’t lump her into the same category as Amazon.com.  I’d buy from Wigglers if I were into gardening (and if she weren’t in England, making shipping very expensive.)  It’s a global mom-and-pop operation, something that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

What does “local” mean? Here in Saint Louis, at least until last year, Anheuser-Busch was a local business.  Was I supporting local business by buying Budweiser?  Yes I was.  But what about local micro-breweries?  Wouldn’t drinking a beer from Schlafley (a local micro) be more in line with a Buy Local philosophy?  And what about Guinness which is unique and only brewed in Ireland?

Then there’s the issue of determining what’s local and what’s not.  McDonald’s is a national chain, but the individual stores are locally owned. Then again, all of their raw materials come from McDonald corporate.   On the other hand, there are some similar operations, like White Castle, where the company owns all the stores.  How many people know that?  How do you know which is which?  Given the addictive taste of a White Castle burger, and their low cost, does it really matter if I eat there?  Like Mickey D’s, they bring the stuff in from out of town.

Does buy local trump buy American? Chances are that you’ll be more likely to find American-made items at your local hardware store rather than at Lowes or Home Depot.  But, what if you don’t?  What if the chain has an American-made drill and everything at the local True Value is made in China?  Which is the better choice?

What about unique items? Again, the local merchant is more likely to have the really unique items, but not always.  Books are a good example.  Sometimes the only place to find an off-beat book is at Amazon.com.  Let’s say that the local book store (if you can find one) doesn’t have the book, but can order it for you.  It will cost $50.00 and take two weeks.  Amazon can get you the same book in two days and it will cost you $40.00 (including shipping and handling).  And you need the book for an important project that’s due in a week.

This one is pretty easy.  You have to go with Amazon because of the deadline.  But what if there is no deadline.  What if you just want to read the book?  Is it worth ten more dollars and twelve more days to support the local business?  Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Buying locally takes some effort.  But it’s worth it.  You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have a vested interest.  If you want your friends and neighbors to do with business with you, you have to do business with them.  It’s as simple as that.  That’s the short-term answer.

Long term, if you want to have a neighborhood hardware store to answer your questions, and to have the part for your twenty-year-old lawn mower in stock, then you’d better do your part in keeping them around.

A lot is being written and said about economic stimulus.  I’m not an economist, but I do think that stimulating the national, and even the world, economy starts with stimulating the local economy.  We all know that small business is responsible for the lion’s share of jobs in the United States.  A sign of a healthy economy is a lot of “help wanted” signs in the windows of our local stores and restaurants.  We can make that happen.

I just realized that I’ve written quite a bit, 698 words and counting, and haven’t answered the question, “At what point is price an issue?” First, I think you have to look at value rather than price.  And value includes the services and potential services that the local business offers.  What looks like a better price may not be.  In the case of on-line purchases, have you considered shipping and handling?  What about the hassle of receiving the merchandise (for example, taking off work to be home when the package is delivered) and the possible hassle of returning something that isn’t right?  Can you trust the vendor to deliver the product as ordered?  All of these come at a price.

If you’re comparing a local store versus a chain, are you comparing apples to apples.  The big guys often have products that are built to their spec, which may not be your spec.  An items that’s ten percent cheaper but wears out twice as fast as a similar one isn’t much of a bargain, is it?

If an item requires assembly or technical knowledge to operate, who’s going to help you out if you have problems, the “helpful hardware man” or the guy in the blue smock who just started to work yesterday?

To wrap this up, you have to make up your own mind what you value and what you don’t.  Everything has a price.  You get what you pay for.  (Insert your own cliche here.)

As a business person you might want to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But what about your customers?  How do we get them on the “buy local” bandwagon?  It’s all about education.  Show them why your product is worth more than your big box or out-of-town competitors.  Use in-store signage, advertising, your web site, and your presence on social media (you are on social media, aren’t you?) to tell them why it’s in their best interest to buy from you.  Because, when all is said and done, people do what’s in their best interest, not yours.

I’d especially welcome comments on this important topic.

The WSJ on Buying Local

3_50 project smallIn case you missed it, here’s a link to a recent Wall Street Journal article featuring the 3/50 Project.  Frankly, the article isn’t that great, but it does highlight the experience of one small business owner’s success with her “buy local” efforts.

We don’t have the resources of our larger competitors when it comes to advertising and PR, so it’s important when any “buy local” program gets national exposure.

Of course, 3/50 works because it appeals to the consumer’s needs as well as the merchant’s.  Pick three local businesses that you couldn’t live without and help them stay in business.  It’s a win/win.  Contrast that approach with the Chicago pen dealer’s personal plea.  He got a brief bump in sales but it was short lived.  Let’s be honest, it’s one thing to spend $50.00 that I was going to spend anyway to ensure that my local hardware store or diner is going to stay around.  It’s something else to ask me to buy a $300 pen to support a store that sells $300 pens.

Check out the article and if you haven’t already, check out the 3/50 Project web site.  There’s a permanent link to it in the left hand column of this page.

Small Business–The 3/50 Project Is Taking Off

3_50 project smallI hate to repeat myself (I hate to repeat myself) but I wanted to update you on something I wrote about a few weeks back (Saving the Economy 3 Stores at a Time),  The 3/50 Project.  In case you missed it, the idea of the project is to support local business by choosing three locally-owned businesses that you can’t live without and spending $50 with them.  That’s $50 total, not $50 each.

It’s a win/win deal with virtually no cost to anyone.  The customer gets to help ensure that her favorite business will stay in business and all she has to do is spend money she was going to spend anyway.  She doesn’t have to spend anything extra–not one penny.

Local business wins by getting more business.  And the cost is virtually nothing.  All the materials for the project are available online at no cost.  The only expense is the paper and ink to print bag stuffers and window signs.  There are some promotional items that have a cost but they’re strictly optional.   The cost to enroll in the program?  Zero.

The local community also wins by having a strong merchant community.  The town is more vibrant and alive.  And, local merchants live and pay taxes there as well. (I guess that makes it a win/win/win.)

The good news is that this thing is really taking off.  Community organizations and local Chambers of Commerce are getting on board.  The member list is growing.  Lots of local news media are getting the story out.

As far as I can see, there’s absolutely no downside to the 3/50 project (unless you’re a big box store).  If you haven’t already, check it out.  You could be up and running literally in a matter of minutes.

Links:

Former Retailer Provides Her Own Economic Stimulus Plan for Main Street

The 3/50 Project Goes Viral

The 3/50 Project Hits 5,000 Supporters Mark

Small Business Retailing–Setting Store Hours

The idea for this post comes from another private forum I follow and a discussion about when an independent retailer should be open.   By their nature, many indie retailers are one or two man (woman) operations.  That means store hours = working hours.  It’s only natural to want and need some time off so a lot of small retail businesses are open limited evening and weekend hours, the very time when most consumers want to shop.

My first job (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) was at a local clothing store.  We were open Monday and Friday until 9:00, and Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday until 6:00.  That was the norm.  There were no alternatives.  Everybody closed at 6:00 during the week.  The only exception was between Thanksgiving and Christmas when we were open M-F until 9:00.  Those were the days.

Make no mistake, on-line shopping and big-box stores that never close are spoiling consumers.  They can shop at any hour of the day and night.  They should have enough sense to know that you’re not going to be there for them at 3:00 am, but they do expect you to have store hours that are convenient for them.

It’s easy for me to sit here in my pjs and pontificate about how many hours you should work. So I’m linking to this article by Bob and Susan Negen. That way you can be mad at them instead of me.   Still, you know I can’t resist throwing in my two cents.

I do disagree with Bob and Susan on one point. Unless you’re running a church or a pharmacy, I don’t think anyone should work on Sunday. (Or whatever your Sabath happens to be) Otherwise, if you’re going to compete, you have to set your store hours for your customers’ convenience.  Here in St. Louis one of the last surviving independent appliance retailers refuses to be open on Sunday.  It’s part of his advertising.   “Shop us every day but Sunday.”  He’s outlasted most of his competition.

With a few exceptions, people who can afford your top-of-the-line product work during the day. If they decide to shop for a whatever you sell chances are very good that  they’re not going to take off work. They’re going to shop in the evening after dinner or on Saturday. Unless they’re incredibly loyal to your store, they’re going to go somewhere else if they find that you’re not open when they need you. Worse, when your product comes up in conversation, they’re going to tell their friends not to go to your store because “you’re never open.”  (If you’re not there when they need you, in their minds you’re never open.)

I know how hard retail is. I know you get tired and need some time off. The solution is to hire someone to fill in when you’re not there. How many high-end widgets do you have to sell to pay for one part-time employee for a few hours per week? You have to do your own math and make the call.

Remember, I’m not here to sell you more merchandise. If I were a vendor I’d want you to be open 24/7 so you never miss a sale.  (Which makes you wonder why Chrysler and GM are eliminating dealers, but that’s another story.)   I just want to see you succeed in business and in your personal life. If you have limited store hours and you’re happy with your income, then keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve found the right combination for you. But if you want to increase your income and reduce your hours at the same time, then hiring additional help is the way to go.

The name of the game is customer service. But your most important customers are your spouse and kids (and grandkids). They’re the reason you’re in business in the first place.

Supporting “Local” Small Business When You’re Out of Town

3_50 project smallThis post is inspired by a comment on the 3/50 Project facebook page.  [In case you missed it, I wrote about the 3/50 Project earlier.  There’s also a link to their home page on your left.

Lili Johnstone wrote:  “Just wanted to say that even when you are far from home, you can still support local stores via the web. Many locally-owned, small business owners have created a cyberspace presence. Next time when shopping online search some of your local favorites.”

An excellent idea for many purchases and I couldn’t agree more.  But when traveling, there are a lot of things that you need to buy from a brick and mortar merchant.  If we support “buy local” at home, then it only makes sense to do the same when you travel.  Every town has excellent local merchants and we should patronize them just as we hope that travellers will visit our stores.

In my response to Lili’s comment, I mentioned restaurants.  When I travel, I never eat at chain places (with the exception of Waffle House.  Sorry, I’m addicted to the Fiesta Omelet.  Nobody’s perfect.))  Not only does eating at local restaurants support the local economy, it provides a local experience that you can’t get at the chains.  You almost always find better food and more interesting people at Mom’s Diner than you do at McDonald’s.

As the 3/50 movement spreads and more and more of their window stickers begin to appear, look for them when you travel.  Patronize your fellow small business owner.  It’s good for all of us.

Saving the Economy 3 Stores at a Time

3_50-project

Thanks to Jay Ehret, aka themarketingguy for pointing out this article from WCCO.com about the 3/50 Project.  The 3/50 project was launched by Cinda Baker, a small business consultant.  The whole thing is really simple.  Consumers pick three local, independent businesses that they’d hate to see disappear and spend $50 per month at those businesses ($50 total, not $50 each).

Consumers aren’t being asked to spend any additional money; just to redirect part of the money they’re already spending to their friends and neighbors who own local businesses.  Unlike some “buy local” campaigns, there is no cost for you to join the project, just a short registration.

Once you’re a member, you’ll be able to download a bag stuffer, counter cards and other promotional goodies.  Other non-downloadable stuff can be ordered at little or no cost.

If there’s no official “buy local” organization in your area, or if you’re running on a tight budget, here’s your chance to start something with virtually no out-of-pocket expense except for paper and ink to print the bag stuffers, counter cards, etc.  You’re inviting your friends and neighbors to support you and your fellow merchants just by spending a small amount of their monthly income with you instead of a national chain.  This is one of those win/win opportunities that can really add up.

You can make this happen today.  Go to the 3/50 web site.  Sign up.  Download the counter card and bag stuffer and put them into use immediately.  You have absolutely nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

No Recession on St. Patrick’s Day

Thousands of Irish and pretenders celebrate St. Paddy's Day In St. Louis

Thousands of Irish and pretenders celebrate St. Paddy's Day In St. Louis

As Casey Stengel might have said, “Nobody goes to the St. Patrick’s parade anymore.  It’s too crowded.” As you can see by the photo, St. Louisians came out in droves for both St. Patrick’s parade this week.

In spite of $6.50 Guinness and $8.00 shots, Irish (and those who wish they were Irish) celebrated the holiday by the thousands downtown on Saturday and in the Irish “Dogtown” neighborhood on Tuesday.  At Dogtown’s “anchor” St. James the Greater Catholic Church, there was a one hour wait for a corned beef sandwich.  One steetside stand was out of Guinness before 1:00.

Your intrepid reporter visited both parades and the hoolies (parties) going on afterwards (It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.) and could find no signs of an economic downturn.  That’s not to say that many people werent  looking for a little entertainment to take their minds off their problems, but it shows that folks can and will spend money with the right motivation.

The Interstate highway that runs alongside Dogtown has been closed since December and isn’t scheduled to reopen until this December.  Several small business owners in the area, especially restaurants and bars,  reported that the huge St. Pat’s crowd may have saved their year and their business.

A Win/Win for Buy Local

bunnAround here we’re pretty much coffee fanatics.  At least my bride is.  The doctor took me off caffeine a couple of years ago so I guess I’m a faux-coffee fanatic.  Anyway, recently our faithful Bunn started leaking water.  Not a lot of water, but enough to be a pain in the neck.  There’s nothing worse than dropping the mail on the counter and watching the water-soaked envelopes floating away.

So, my wife began a quest for a replacement.  There was no debate that it had to be another Bunn.  Our old faithful machine had lasted for many years.  Besides, it’s American-made.    The problem was the color.  She wanted white but most stores carry it only in black.

Today she purchased her brand-new, American-made caffeine dispenser from Handyman Hardware, a True Value located just a block from our house and most definitely a locally-owned business.  And the price?  Right in line with the chains advertised prices.

It’s just another example that local doesn’t mean “high priced” and in fact local can mean better selection, often the difference between what you really want and what you have to settle for.