Disclaimer: This is an essay response by Patrysha, and though published on this blog it may not represent the thoughts of management or the board. The following viewpoint is strictly my own, and should not be deemed to directly reflect the views of my employer – though I can't think of one that would be disagreed with either. I just think it's important to point that out because I am so very passionate about this subject and have such a huge personal vision for what local entrepreneurship and partnerships can do to build vibrant, healthy communities that sometimes I get ahead of myself.
Who am I when I speak for me…
I speak as a citizen and a (somewhat frugal, but not very picky) consumer. I’ve lived in Whitecourt for nearly nine years now, having spent a year in Fort Assiniboine prior to that.
I speak as a lifelong, serial and incurable work at home entrepreneur. I’ve always, with the exception of the brief period when my marriage was ending and my new life beginning – made money from home. Sometimes it was part time and coupled with a day job (as it is now) and others it was full time combined with mothering.
I speak as someone who believed in the principles of co-operation as made famous and forever imprinted on my mind through Sesame Street. My love for Muppet monsters spawned the desire to know (and love) the people in my neighbourhood and the belief that entrepreneurship and partnership are the keys that put unity into community.
I speak as a local shopping advocate. I’ve always believed in buying local – no matter where I was (exceptions being Tuktoyaktuk, Cadotte Lake and Chateh -if you know what and where those places are I’m sure you’ll understand!) – I’ve lived in two major cities, numerous small towns, and a few hamlets – and where ever the initial seed was planted – buying from small business owners was always one of my things. (I’ve also always loved shopping at co-ops where that was an option…but that’s a post for another day!)
And as I grew in knowledge about small business – as an entrepreneur and friends of entrepreneurs (within my own communities and all over the world via the net, because I’m a geek and have been online since before there were social networks and mobile phones…)
What is this all about?
This post is somewhat of a response the the recent posts I’ve seen (via Social Media) about the viewpoints about local shopping within the communities we serve through Community Futures Yellowhead East. (I’m not a stalker I swear, but I keep my eye on several Facebook groups and pages to keep up on what’s happening that’s not on the radio stations)
I want to express how important it is to find a way that suits you to buy local – when and where it’s convenient and logical for you to do. But I also encourage you to look to buy local in the communities you visit too! Shopping at Costco is one thing, shopping on 124 Street is another thing altogether. I also highly encourage choosing small business operations when you shop online too. Where it’s feasible and possible – there’s no grading system – and no one in the modern world can score 100% in not buying from a big business or corporation – but buying local IS worth the effort.
I’d love to buy local, but really I’m just making excuses…
I hear (read) a lot of, I’d buy local but…
- The prices are too high. (Compared to? Are you comparing apples to apples?)
- Local business owners are greedy gougers. (Ouch! These are community members who live and work and raise families here! Not strangers without a stake in your opinions…)
- I can get it at this big box store or that chain in the city for so much cheaper. (Of course, you can!They’re have huge buying power and can ship directly from manufacturers in China and third world countries!)
What you’re saying is that it’s not worth your time or effort to look for or ask for the things you need locally – that while you’d like to be a good citizen and are willing to pay lip service to promoting the notion of local buying, you’d really just rather drive to the city or order online.
Your actions speak louder than words – and your money talks when you spend it.
What your money says when you take it down the road….
When you decide where to spend your hard earned money. And whatever you do, whatever your income level – your money is hard earned. And where you spend it sends the message that you want more of that.
When you buy in city big box stores that can provide you cheap and plentiful industrial products, you are saying I want more of that.
And your dollars have been heard, as evidenced by the big box stores that have begun to stretch into our larger communities. While your mouth (or fingers) are saying that you’d shop local but…your dollars are saying you really don’t want to shop local.
It’s not wrong – but it’s not local.
And that’s okay – as far as I’m concerned – there’s a reason all these big box stores exist – and it’s because some business owner somewhere saw a need and sought to fill it. That’s capitalism. And those larger stores provide employment and taxes and do at least somewhat benefit at least the hub community.
Just be honest about it. With yourself and with your community.
Own your message!
As a believer in conscious consumerism – I just encourage you to think about it.
What messages are you sending with your buying power?
I’d like to think my buying choices echo my desire to be environmentally and socially conscious while being locally focused.
I’m a huge advocate of natural capitalism –not the corporate behemoth that has come to represent capitalism but that grassroots stuff of philosophy as described by Barb Stegeman in the 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen – so I like to buy from local merchants who genuinely contribute to the communities I live in through excellence and charity.
You’ll have your own personally driven buying directives – own them…live them!
We have it all in our backyard
We live in an area where natural, close to nature food sources exist – through hunting, farming and bee-keeping operations throughout the area – we have access to farm fresh food (some of it the exact organic & free range variety that my crunchy friends in the cities either yearn for or pay through the nose for) and have an abundance of free and low cost activities available on any given weekend.
We kind of have it all, or it would seem to for many – but we complain about it all.
Are Prices Really Higher At Local Retailers?
- “We don’t have any variety here!”
- “Why doesn’t someone open a store that sells what I want?”
First things first, we are not the city, we will never be the city. Okay, maybe someday one or two of the communities within our area could become cities – but we haven’t gotten there yet. There must be a certain acceptance of the fact that we are a rural area.
Now I get if you are here against your will and never wanted a small town life or a rural existence. So many people end up in places they never expected to be – whether by family, finances, career or whim. And if that’s the case, it can be hard to adjust to landing in the rural landscape.
But yeah, one of the things about living outside of a metropolis is the lack of variety – and sometimes the prices are a bit higher. Not always though. In fact, in prices in small towns tend to be the same as or lower for comparable products.
But people keep spreading the “prices are higher here” lie as if it was truth – often by people who don’t even make the attempt to buy local.
Three Myths that Persist
There are three myths that consistently persist in the small town small business marketplace – no matter what small town I’ve lived in.
One is that small business owners are rich – and the other that they are rich because they gouge their customers. And finally, that small towns are somehow incapable of providing world class products and services (or alternatively that it must be better if it comes from someplace else!) In my experience, meeting hundreds of small business owners in a variety of industries is that these myths are never substantiated.
Now that’s not so say there are not some rich small town small business owners. Many have become wealthy over time. However, few started that way – and none of them got that way by gouging or ripping off their customers. In every study of long term success I’ve ever heard or read relating to small business success (and I have read over 300 books a year every year since I was 8 years old and I’m old now…so that’s a lot of success stories to sample from beyond the ones I experienced myself) excellence and caring were the keys to business wealth. (It gets murky when it goes corporate – but at the small town small business success level, I haven’t found an exception yet)
And that’s not to say, sadly – that some small town small business owners do gouge. Or at least charge more than the market will bear for their products and services. Most don’t, I can’t stress that enough! But it’s unfortunately true (as it is in every industry/profession/subet) that there are bad apples in the orchard of goodness.
So yes, sadly – some do take advantage of the situation they find themselves in and charge more that might be considered fair – and as a person and a consumer that ticks me off. It is only the fact that most with an attitude lacking in gratitude simply don’t survive. It is my experience, that bad news (and gossip – but that’s another post) travels faster in a small town than social media can ever hope to achieve.
The simple solution is to not give the owners who appear not to care my business or referrals. Just as enough support can keep a loved business alive, lack of support can achieve the opposite. Remember, we decide what we support by where we spend our money. While I do believe in local shopping, I believe more in excellence – in product and customer service. Luckily, most of the small business owners I’ve met are passionate about bringing their customers the very best the world has to offer. It’s not always the lowest price, but it’s always the best value.
One of the things that has been consistent about the clients I’ve dealt with as a writer, publicist and marketer (some of the things I did before I was a business advisor) is their commitment to being the best in their fields – not just in the communities they lived in, but in the world. Yet, so often – they lost clients to “city business” because of the perception that the city could offer better. It’s easy to forget that small towns across Canada have been birthplaces of supermodels, comedians, music stars, champion figure skaters, champion hockey players and incredible business start ups that have changed the marketplace. Yet we too often act as if ingenuity and excellence are outside the realm of local.
If we eliminate these three myths, buying local becomes logical instead of something to excuse away as a nice thought but completely improbable.
Buying local always has more value than you might realize
As a local shopping advocate over the past decade, I’ve encountered many small town residents who pay lip service to buying local – when it really isn’t as high on the priority list as other pressing matters. Budget, health and other things are much more important than keeping the local economy fueled. And let’s face it – we do what we do as consumers – more based on habit and personal desires than any higher purpose to make a personal philosophical statement.
It’s okay to admit it’s not a huge priority – but I’d love to encourage you to consider keeping more of your dollars local when and where you can.
Shopping local should be natural not forced
I think it’s worth noting that some consumers feel pressured by shop local movements. While they want to support local shopping – they do not want to be bullied into buying – especially in shops where the owners seem not to care or where they feel their business is taken for granted.
I get that. I hate shopping where I don’t feel valued too. I do it sometimes – because of the whole limited choice and habits thing – but all in all – I do believe that even that benefits our community more than taking my dollars elseswhere.
Money spent locally stays local (for the most part)
Whether you buy your products and services from a corporation, a franchise or a mom&pop operation – any money spent locally will benefit your community directly. That much should be obvious, but it seldom seems to be a consideration. I also think it should be obvious that buying goods from direct sales representatives within our community, also serves to build our community. The closer to the source of creation or manufacture – the more money stays within the community. So, if you’re buying directly from a farmer – a higher percentage of the dollar stays within the community than when buying from a corporate-owned store. Franchises fall in the middle, while single operator and mom and pop businesses re-invest the highest percentage (through employment, taxes, personal and business buying, charitable donations and other locally spent expenses).
Of course, I think that everyone should minimize their buying (it’s better for the environment and peace of mind…that’s why there’s a minimalism movement afoot on the interwebs and within the hearts of some consumers), buy local from artisans (why buy from a top designer when you can lead the way by wearing a local and emerging designer or seamstress or home decor artist or local photographer?) and direct from producers when buying is necessary (we have so many producers in the area who could likely use business!) – but every community I’ve visited within our area (and every community I’ve lived in…even Tuktoyaktuk) had unique and wonderful places to choose to buy local – they weren’t (and aren’t) always as evident on the surface as consumers might like.
It takes effort to love shopping locally
Just as marriage takes work. So does the commitment to buy locally. It takes effort on both the part of the consumer and the proprietor. For the consumer, to be understanding that variety and price points are different when not buying industrially – it takes effort to suspend judgment and the perceptions and to learn to ignore the common myths (of wealth and gouging and the less than world class perceptions) to give local businesses a chance.
And it takes effort from the proprietor to understand that every sale is valuable and to never take customer satisfaction and loyalty for granted. It’s a dance that takes both partners.
It’s not always easy to find excellence because it’s often quiet and found through referrals and personal recommendations rather than the traditional marketing we’ve come to expect from city types and corporations.
So no, even as a local buying advocate – I don’t have have the audacity to say that buying local is always easy or convenient. But it is always worth it. Buying local is an integral part of building unity in community – you can’t have a vibrant, healthy community without a strong and diverse economy and every citizen can make a commitment to (if not to buy local then to at least) think local first.
You don’t have to patronize every business in town. You don’t have to like everything every one has to offer. As I said before, buying local should be natural not forced – but don’t dismiss it out of hand because it’s not as easy and convenient (and let’s face it cheap) as heading down the highway.
Are the bargains worth the eroding of the community you live in?