It’s a Fort Bragg doubleheader this weekend, sorry about that, folks. I’d like to think that what I talked about yesterday and what I am talking about today are applicable to other communities, though, so there really is reason to stick around. You can substitute the name of your own flailing hometown if you’d prefer.
I think about the buy local movement a lot. At its core, the movement is about trying to get people to keep money in their own communities. This does have tangible benefits, even when the money doesn’t stay in your very own pocket. Buying local supports local business owners who can in turn engage in activities in the community which improve the community. It keeps money in local banks, which can in turn loan money. And it means that money doesn’t wind up in centralized locations which just collect more and more money, like iron filings to a magnet, sucking it out of small communities.
Communities just like this one. Fort Bragg hasn’t done the greatest job of promoting a buy local movement. There are a few business owners that try, and have things up in their windows, and meet with each other to talk about strategy and to try and develop a campaign which will appeal. But the City appears uninterested in promoting a buy local campaign, presumably because it is simply too busy promoting tourism to spend any time whatsoever on thinking about how to promote and preserve local business. How to support efforts to make businesses carry things which people who live here might actually buy.
The thrust of buy local isn’t just that you should go into physical stores in your community, but specifically into stores owned by local people. Which is kinda hard, when locally owned stores don’t carry things that we need, and franchise/chain stores do. Buying locally in a chain is still viewed as better than buying online, though, because at least some of your dollars stay in the community instead of winging their way somewhere else, but part of such campaigns needs to be finding ways to get needed products into locally owned stores.
What people often object to with such campaigns, rightly so, is that buying local is expensive. Local stores simply cannot match prices provided by chains, franchises, and online stores which aren’t bearing the expenses of a brick and mortar operation. It’s just not going to happen. And this is something which most people understand, on some level.
For some people, it’s not a choice. You don’t have the option of spending more to buy local because your income is too limited. And for people in that position, shaming and blaming are completely unproductive. You cannot shame people out of being poor. If you could, we would be a nation of millionaires, I’m sure. So, first thing, a buy local campaign can’t focus on these people. Not right away. The long term goal, I would sincerely hope, is to increase local purchasing power to make it possible for these people to afford to buy locally due to a combination of better wages and decreased prices.
So, what you need to concentrate on is people who do have some purchasing power and can make decisions about where they buy. And for those people, there’s often not much of an incentive to buy locally. I am one of those people. I don’t buy very many things just in general, but I have a really hard time buying locally, because if I pay more for something, I want two things.
One: I want something which I actually want.
Two: I want some service.
Here’s a good example of a store promoting buying local, and providing people with reasons to buy locally: Hilary’s store, If the Shoe Fits. She has products at a range of price points to appeal to people with a variety of budgets, but she also offers service. Good service. If you ask her, she will be a personal shopper for you. She will provide you with advice. She will keep her eye out for things she thinks you would like and can afford. That gives me a reason to buy local, because that is a service which is not available to me online. Likewise, the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino provides service to its customers. They offer book recommendations, rare book searches, and a nice environment to browse in.
These businesses both recognize that they cannot match chain/online prices. They aren’t going to try. But they are going to come up with another reason to buy local than just “buy local, it’s good for the community.” They recognize that while people may accept this as true (and there are compelling reasons to buy local, as I discussed above), people still need a personal incentive to do things which are good for their communities. Because, bluntly, when people spend money, they expect to get something in exchange. If they aren’t getting a bargain, they want something else.
I’m not going to single out any businesses which I think do a bad job at this, because I’m not really interested in naming names here. But I do think it’s very telling that a number of local businesses will stridently tell people that they should buy locally, while providing very poor products and service, which drives people to do just the opposite of buying local. And when you go through a string of stores which offer poor products and services, you start to think “oh, ok, all local businesses are like this, I’m not going to bother buying local anymore.”
Those businesses are hurting themselves and they are hurting other businesses with their absolute, steadfast refusal to provide people with a reason to buy here. It doesn’t take much. You just have to find that thing which gets people in the door and gets them to start talking you up to their friends. But having surly clerks and crappy products is definitely not the way to accomplish that.