For the Love of Supporting Local

June 2020 | by holly netz

Shop Local is a mantra reiterated in communities nationwide, even as our world continues to shift to the ease of online shopping daily. Avenues once used for social interaction have embraced the commercial opportunity to use sophisticated algorithms to seize our attention and sell items tailored to our tastes. It has never been easier to push a button and have something (you had no idea you even wanted) shipped straight to your door.

The Shop Local movement was a focus long before we experienced the devastation COVID-19 wreaked on our communities. We have seen small, locally owned businesses shuttered by a pandemic that will become part of history books. Some will survive and reopen; the few fortunate enough to have received funding hope that opportunity helps them survive rather than being a future liability. We’ve heard hushed talks about businesses not reopening, unable to survive this crisis. Our hearts break for friends and family who have worked for years to build a livelihood, only to have it swept out from under them. Talking about supporting local was not borne of the current world crisis, but it has forced our hand to really look at what that means. It's urgent to focus on the conversation once convenient to reference, now critical to understand and implement.

So what does supporting local mean? Choosing a homegrown jeweler or specialty retail shop is a quick, easy first thought. We have an opportunity before us to not only preserve our community but also grow a greater one for those that come after us. Now is the time to not only reiterate the mantra, but to look deeper at the levels of local business, and how the choices we make every day matter. 

LET’S START WITH THE BASICS: 

First and foremost, when you choose to shop local, 68-79% of your money stays local. Local businesses do more than create jobs. Small businesses tend to do business with other local suppliers, strengthening the net of money that stays in our local economy. Conversely, a mere 14% of money spent at a major chain will stay local -- usually in the form of wages. Despite this initial disparity, we all know that we need different kinds of businesses to meet our community needs. Regional chains, franchises, larger retailers, etc. So how do we delineate our dollars while we determine what's best for our community?

Quite simply, we must research, educate ourselves and others, and decide with our dollars. Let’s look at a basic breakdown:

LEVEL ONE: (GROUND ZERO) 

Genuine small businesses are what make our community unique. More than 65% of new jobs have come from the rise of small business since the ‘70s. These businesses make up the most significant percentage of donations to local nonprofits. Local businesses use other small businesses as their suppliers. Not only does this keep the economic circle spinning, but it helps create a reduced carbon footprint due to the way they do business. That's one more socially conscious "hot button" we can hit by spending dollars locally.

Local companies invest more in employees per cost of unit than larger box stores. The bonus to you as the consumer is shorter lines, better customer service, and more invested employees. They also create unique and exclusive products, sometimes referred to as small batch. Small batch has become a buzzword in new merchandising trends. Those superfood plant mixes on Instagram are all preaching that they are created in small batches. Where do small batches originate? Small businesses. 

LEVEL TWO:

Regionally owned businesses are the next consideration. This one is inspiring. We have some great companies that started as a local business either here in Billings or in our regional area and are now large businesses. They have local roots, employ local people, and do most of their ancillary business locally. The next time you think small businesses can't supply the needs of our entire local population -- remember that many regional companies started as tiny, singular shops. Because they were supported locally, they were able to grow and not only supply more to our community, but give back in broader ways as well.

LEVEL THREE:

Franchises are (usually) owned by local community members. While franchise fees are paid out of state, a larger percentage of the money stays in our community. These franchises are also more likely to donate to local causes, sponsor Little League teams, and more.

LEVEL FOUR:

Corporate businesses are necessary to our community economy. And though most of the money they leave in the local economy is in the form of wages, many of these businesses prioritize a livable wage and good benefits. They can be a huge benefit to the community in that manner.

So what do these levels mean? Quite simply, balance and education. We know that we cannot meet 100% of our consumer needs by shopping solely local and small. But we also must be acutely aware of the responsibility that lies upon our choices now for the future of our community. Recent reports indicate that in reaction to COVID-19, consumers are saving more and spending less. That means that now, more than ever, where and how we spend our money is critical. When we as consumers pinch pennies and cut back on extravagances, we exercise greater caution into where we spend our dollars. In such a volatile economic environment, small businesses rely on us more than ever to survive. Every single transaction is vital to them. Every decision we make as consumers determines the future of our community. 

One of my favorite adages is, "Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit." We will most certainly not reinvent our local economy overnight. However, if we don't plant the seedling and water it daily, our grandchildren will never sit in its shade.

Let’s plant some trees. 

WHY SHOP LOCAL?

  1. Support Local Jobs: Local employers are more likely to retain employees during troubled times, as well as not look at employees as a possible “cost reduction” when seeking to enlarge profits.
  2. Reduce environmental impact: Local employers do a larger percentage of business with other local businesses, reducing our carbon footprint. 
  3. Get unique, customized, small batch products: Remember when you went to prom and prayed that ten other girls didn't show up in the same dress as you? Shopping local helps prevent that -- on levels beyond prom dresses. 
  4. Great Customer Service: My paint guy, Steve, knows me. He greets me and makes fun of me for painting my guest room for the third time in five years -- but he always makes sure I have a satin finish instead of eggshell. He also advises me against "chartreuse" when my brain is insisting that's the color I want!

HOW TO SHOP LOCAL 

Research! The Chamber of Commerce, Better Off In Billings, Downtown Billings Alliance, friends and family. Find out who owns what, how local they are, how much they contribute to their community. Have a MUST for a big box store? Find out who pays the best wages and benefits and treats their employees the best. Choose wisely! 

Make room in your budget: Yes, sometimes what you think is the same item can be procured from a box store for $5 less. First, go back to research. Is it the same? Most likely not. Even if it is, the extra cost can be worth it to boost your local economy, support jobs and local resources, and be a part of the future we want for our community. 

Keep our community unique! Small businesses have a way of becoming embedded in the heart of a community, creating memories that last a lifetime, like the first cone of the season from Softies or that cinnamon roll from Stella’s.

Change the way you shop today: 

  • Switch to a local bank.
  • Use a local accountant for taxes (that don’t need to be filed until July 15th this year). 
  • Get a friend a gift certificate to a local restaurant or retail spot instead of Target.
  • Take your teenage son to a local hairdresser instead of a chain salon -- trust me, he will be uncomfortable either way. 
  • Choose a kid and his dad that started a local lawn service instead of a chain. 
  • Get your oil changed and new tires at the business that was started and grown in our local area instead of a national chain.
  • Join a local gym 
  • Shop your local Farmer’s Market
  • Cancel Amazon Prime. I'm serious. If that button is there, you WILL use it. Let's choose to invest in our community -- not just increase our comfort.

Originally printed in the June 2020 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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