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Local Businesses Must Contribute

17 June 2024

Anna Lappe once stated, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”  This has never been more accurate than in a local community. I might add, the smaller the community, the more necessary and true this statement rings.  While we tend to spend our time focusing on the need to shop local, be local, and adopt a truly-local DNA, we must not neglect what that truly means from a business point of view.


A few years ago during COVID, a reader reached out to me about how hard it is to shop local in his area because local businesses didn’t require masks, whereas the national chains for the most part did insist on wearing of masks.  While we won’t debate the politics of mask wearing, it did give me cause to think about the role of locally-owned businesses in the overall efforts of building a truly-local DNA within the community.


The financial reasons for spending our personal and government dollars hyper-locally are indisputable. Let me reiterate an example that I have used numerous times that show the power of a concentrated local spending program. In a community of 20,000 residents, what if every resident spent an additional $25 each month locally that they may have spent outside the community or online? That $25 multiplied by 20,000 residents is $500,000 per month or $6,000,000 per year that otherwise may leave the community. When we compound that 3-7X, the real community impact of that $6,000,000 becomes between $18,000,000 - $42,000,000 each and every year. That would equate to quite a bit of economic vibrancy and a whole lot of jobs!


In order to entice locals to spend locally, businesses must strive hard to meet the needs of the marketplace. What are the basics local business MUST do to earn a community effort and become a community with truly-local DNA?


Customer Service - Local businesses have the upper hand over national chains when it comes to providing customer service and localized unique shopping experiences. Locally owned businesses have a hard time competing on price with national chains able to offer lower prices due to bulk buying. In order to get locals to pay a little more, we must provide a better experience. We must provide reasons for them to come back. We must go out of our way to build relationships with our customers. We are far more likely to support friends, family and neighbor owned businesses when we believe those local businesses that we spend our money with, feel that way same way towards us.


Treat It Like A Job – Have you ever walked into a locally-owned business during a slow time and the owner was reading a book, playing solitaire on the computer or reading the latest Sports Illustrated? Those owners aren’t treating their business like a job, but simply a hobby. I can’t remember a job I have had that allowed me to spend time reading books or playing games on a computer. Slower times should be welcome, this allows you to update webpages, Facebook groups, reach out to past customers, researching growth strategies, doing customer surveys regarding your services and products. With the Internet as a tool, all the above and much more are absolutely free.


Be Open – Studies show 70% of all retail purchases take place after 5:00PM and weekends.  Far too often I see locally-owned businesses close at 5:00PM and offer reduced weekend hours. Communities and their locally-owned base must work together to stay open during hours consumers actually have time to shop. While staying open is an issue which takes the entire to community to support, it is the business base that must start this effort.


When you shop at locally owned businesses, you are casting a vote for the American dream. You are voting with your pocketbook and saying you believe in your community.  You want to see it flourish.  While there are many pathways for community residents to improve themselves financially, one of the most effective ways for business owners to move upward is through the community supporting locally owned businesses. Your dollars spent locally are in a true sense investing in enhanced local entrepreneurship, which also results in real economic growth.  


I have said it many times and I will express it yet again. The future of our small and medium size towns will rely on the success of the locally owned businesses. When we support them, we are building our own Main Streets and sending much less to Wall Street. When we figure out ways to build our communities through a locally owned business base, we are building long-term sustainability and increased community self-reliance.  Those two items are what will assure our community survives the economic conditions, regardless of what they might be.


John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Chambers, Communities, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column appears in 60+ newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.