Beyond Simply Saying “Shop Local”

Shop Local” is a plea heard frequently from Central Montana business owners struggling to compete with 1) larger, neighboring cities and their multitudes of Big Box stores and cheaper prices, and 2) the Internet.

Few would argue there are many valid reasons we should support our local businesses…

Among the Reasons for Shopping Locally:

Shop Local1) Many of our local businesses employ our friends and neighbors, allowing them to help feed their families, keep a roof over their heads and go about their daily lives in Central Montana.
2) Support from the local businesses is what keeps many of our area’s nonprofit organizations, teams and groups up and running for the benefit of our community.
3) Local businesses add to our tax base, which in turn helps support the community’s infrastructure.
4) Certain products, particularly food, are of a better quality when produced and purchased locally.
5) Tourist spending makes up only a portion of the sales revenue in our area and even then, is highly seasonal. This means that for local businesses to survive during the slower seasons, they must receive the support of local residents in the form of dollars spent.
6) In order to sustain (and ideally, increase) the tourist dollars spent here (see no. 5), our community needs to be an attractive destination for visitors, which most would agree requires a vibrant Main Street. Without local support to keep those businesses open during the slow times, they won’t be around during the tourist seasons, creating a potentially devastating downward cycle.

I suspect most folks who enjoy living in Central Montana or other rural communities and want to continue doing so would agree these are all good reasons to shop locally. And I believe many make an effort to do so … when they can.

It’s that last little phrase we should be paying attention to.

What prevents someone who cares about their small community and wants to support its businesses from shopping locally? I’ve observed a variety of answers to that question. Here are a few that come to mind, some of which I’ve experienced myself…

Why Customers Don’t Shop Locally

• I can’t find what I want.
I can’t afford to shop locally.
The customer service is lacking.
It’s not convenient or enjoyable to shop here.
I have to go to Billings or Great Falls (or whatever city is close to you) anyway… I may as well shop while I’m there.

I’m sure none of these answers comes as a surprise to our local business owners. I’ve heard the frustration from those who are aware of these obstacles… and most have made a diligent effort to improve upon the situation. But sometimes it seems our local business owners throw their hands up in the air and insist locals should shop local just for the sake of shopping local.

That just doesn’t cut it in today’s highly mobile world with unlimited choices and oftentimes tight budgets. It’s not fair (or effective) to expect someone who lives in Central Montana to spend their money in Central Montana simply because that’s where they happen to live, regardless of the role of local businesses in the culture and economy.

As Becky McCray of Small Biz Survival suggests in this post, local businesses still need to earn the loyalty of their customers by providing what the customer wants.

A Proactive Approach to Motivating Local Spending

The “Shop Local” push always gears up this time of year as small communities everywhere prepare for the holiday shopping season. This message is especially active surrounding Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, which are just under seven weeks from now.

In the spirit of helping local businesses take a proactive approach to motivating customers to shop locally, Becky & Small Biz Survival launched a seven-part blog series this week aimed at helping small biz owners tackle their weak spots – those areas which likely contribute to a shopper’s choice to spend their dollars elsewhere. Rather than just emphasizing “shop local” for the next seven weeks, she suggests we take a focused approach to making the improvements that will increase the number of times a customer will choose to shop locally because that’s where they find what they want and need.

I love Becky’s approach and beginning tomorrow, plan to share & summarize her posts each week throughout the series, adding my own two cents as we go along. I hope you’ll join me and invite you to share your two cents as well, beginning now…

What factors influence YOUR decision whether (or not) to make a purchase locally? What products, services or experiences do you wish you could find locally that you are not finding now?


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