Does shopping local make a difference? It absolutely does. As a consumer, you can do a lot to impact job opportunities and the overall economic well-being of the area where you live by making a concerted effort to shop locally whenever possible. Gerri Holland, Executive Vice President of OEC, a locally-owned office furniture and office supply business based in Mobile, Alabama, shares her insights on this important topic, explaining just how much of a difference shopping local can really make.
Consumers sometimes hesitate to seek products and services from local businesses, assuming that doing so would cost them more money than buying from larger organizations. However, this is not always the case. Pricing can vary significantly, but, as Holland explains, “local companies can be very price competitive and, in many instances, cheaper. Big Box chain stores are masters at using ‘loss leader pricing’ to create a perception of being the low cost provider that may not always hold true.” A few low-priced items doesn’t mean that everything is priced lower in a big store.
Holland recommends, “Customers should look closely and also take into consideration any “value add” for your money. Many times local businesses will provide value that equates to money and efficiencies that will hands down make them the winner”. Community impact is also an important consideration. Holland expands, “Ultimately, as a community it will cost us all more if we send our money somewhere else. So even if all things being equal and your local business is a few cents higher, it may be worth investing in your local community. Otherwise it could just be a deferred payment. One way or another you will pay more in the long run.”
Consumers also sometimes presume that the selection or quality will not be as good with local businesses, but this is also often not the case. There are many locally owned business throughout the Mobile, Alabama area, so it’s not difficult to make small changes that can have a significant impact. Like the Shop Local Mobile, AL Facebook page to get a sense of the many opportunities to keep your money at home, and get ideas on where to find local produce from the State of Alabama's Farmers Market Authority Buy Fresh, Buy Local initiative.
Even where you can't find products from the city or surrounding communities, you can still make a concerted effort to purchase products from the state or Gulf Coast region. Buy Alabama's Best and the Alabama Marketplace are great places to find products made within the state.
Also look to your own network of personal contacts when wondering where to source items you need locally. If you're plugged in to Facebook, LinkedIn, or another social network and you're not sure where to source what you need from a local business, post a question there. Michelle Ritter, owner of e-worc, - a locally-owned Mobile, AL web design firm - did just that and received many terrific suggestions from her friends and professional contacts. "I decided to commit to doing my Christmas shopping locally," Ritter explains. Suggestions shared in response to her questions yielded many great resources toward that goal. "I hope that others who saw my post and the terrific response were also inspired to keep a significant portion of their holiday dollars in the local community."
Another misconception that people sometimes have is that shopping local might help the business owner, but that little impact exists for the larger community. However, this is not the case at all. Holland explains, “Buying local gives us more control over our own economy in many ways. The impact is huge. For every $100 spent with a non-local business, only $43 stays in the local area, but when you spend that same $100 with a local company, $68 dollars stays in the community.”
She expands, “I would say job creation within our community would be the number one impact. I will use us as an example: OEC is a local company, and we use local banks, local printers, local marketing companies, local attorneys, local CPA’s and so on. Do you think a big box competitor headquartered in another state can say the same? The answer is no, and this can have a huge trickle effect on employment. So when you, your family and friends are unemployed and cannot find a job we have to look in the mirror if we have been sending our money and jobs elsewhere.”
That is not the only area where shopping local matters. Holland points out, “Sending your money outside our community can affect churches, charitable organizations & schools. It affects our city’s stream of revenue, which can affect our police, fire, roads, parks and more. The list goes on and on. Buying local is also an excellent sustainability effort. Business Sustainability is often defined by the triple bottom line, People, Planet and Profits. Buying local addresses all three!”
Making a Difference
If you’re ready to make a shift to local buying, Holland recommends the following: “Look at what and where you are spending now and see if there is a local business that could provide the same product and/or services. Also take into consideration the added value a local business can provide and if that is important to you.”
Holland suggests, "Start with a small shift in your spending habits. Not everything will be available locally but many things will be. Based on a study by Civil Economics, I have learned that if the Mobile, Alabama population of about 200,000 people shifted just 10% of its spending from national companies to local companies it could potentially result in $36.5 million dollars in economic activity, 450 jobs and 13 million dollars in wages.” Who wouldn’t want to have that kind of impact in the community?