Persuading Consumers to "Buy Local"

by Rebecca Smith Hurd on November 24, 2010
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As Black Friday looms large, independent retailers are working harder than ever to avoid getting trampled by big-box stores and online sellers. The question is: How do boutiques, specialty shops, and other small enterprises convince consumers to buy locally, when multimillion-dollar ad campaigns and extreme virtual bargains are enticing them to do exactly the opposite? The answer, according to many entrepreneurs, is simple: Teach people about the benefits of local purchasing.

If that task sounds daunting, it really shouldn’t. The food industry has already paved the way, educating everyone from restaurateurs to homemakers about the merits of sourcing ingredients from local and regional producers. (In short, it’s better for our health and the planet’s.) Other business sectors are now helping to take the lesson a step further, demonstrating how buying neighborhood goods and services can strengthen the economic base of an entire community.

Pay It Forward
Cinda Baxter, founder of the 3/50 Project, believes that if just half of all working Americans spent just $50 per month at locally owned businesses, they would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. What’s more, for every $100 a consumer spends in these independent shops, $68 gets returned to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures, compared with a mere $43 if shoppers drop the same amount at a mega-store — or a big fat zero if they buy online.

Baxter, whose mission is “saving the brick-and-mortars our nation is built on,” espouses Small Business Saturday as an opportunity to boost independent retailers. The first-of-its-kind event, which takes place this Saturday, November 27, is the mom-and-pop shop’s answer to Black Friday. Anyone can participate. The event aims to rally consumer support for local shops nationwide, as well as provide store owners with marketing opportunities. For starters, those who sign up on Small Business Saturday’s official Facebook page can receive a $100 advertising credit to generate buzz and get more customers to patronize their businesses.

Beyond the Holidays
After this weekend, independent retailers and other entrepreneurs can continue to boost their bottom lines by participating in longer-term joint efforts, such as Baxter’s 3/50 Project, which provides a variety of free marketing and promotional materials; Pepsi’s Refresh campaign, which gives cash awards to individuals and small enterprises engaged in socially responsible activities; and, of course, Intuit’s ongoing Love a Local Business program, which lets customers, vendors, employees, and the community-at-large decide which local enterprises deserve some extra financial support, in the form of small business grants.

So, as you brace for Black Friday, remember that “buying local” these days applies to far more than food. Inform your customers of the impact that their dollars can have on the local economy when they spend them at neighborhood businesses — and perhaps remind them that their investment helps you and the planet, too.

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