Buy Local but maybe not for the reasons you think

Being the student of economics and dynamic systems I am, the “buy local” mantra never really sunk in with me. It didn’t help when a brilliant local economist confirmed my suspicions stating that it actually hurt the community more than it helped to reward merchants based on their locale more than on their ability to be competitive.

So for years I have been shaking my head over the feel-good proposition to forego doing business with national or regional chain stores with their usually better-than-wholesale-pricing and broad selections and instead seek out stores with usually higher pricing and less selection just because because they have local ownership.

But I got a bit of the “there’s more to business than the math” lesson about this from John Jantsch. long-time marketer and author of the book, “Duct Tape Marketing” (it’s on the recommended reading list here since day one). John posted a picture of a “Buy Local” sticker that was in a store window and I commented to being surprised to see him promoting the mantra. I explained my long-held economic basis and that I assumed he was, as I had picked up from his book and articles, not going to promote business ventures simply on the merit of being local.

Here’s his response,

Not sure posting an image puts me on any bandwagon – do I like small, local businesses and do I go out of my way to support them – you bet I do, but that’s just because that’s my style, it’s not a political statement – I’ve worked professionally with owners of small local businesses for over 25 years and I love the people that run these business. Each one is one of a kind and that just happens to be the kind of place I like to shop.

So for me, I find these to be a better option before I ever consider any economic point of leverage – small, local shops are just cooler.

You may not be able to run a report that gives hard and fast numbers on the economic sense of it, but when I look over at church and see the coffee shop owner or when I run into the hardware store owner at the gym I know that I’m getting much more than pseudo-political feel good by doing business with them.

As luck or fate would have it, my wife had just said something to the same effect just a day or two prior. She loved being greeted by name when walking into a store and knowing the person doing the greeting. She appreciated how people in our small town remembered her preferences and sometimes didn’t bother to ask, but simply anticipated.

We need to realize that this is much more than about “Buying Local” though. This is about customer service, knowing your customers and getting involved in your business and realling knowing what you provide and who you provide it to. The end result is a loyal customer base and a fine-tuned delivery system providing a fine-tuned product. When a small business owner does this, it’s a brilliant thing and something to seek out as a customer/prospect.

It is much easier to carry out this model when you live and play in the market you serve; running into your customers in the grocery store or on the golf course; or on a B2B scale, at tradeshows. The nirvana for the store owner in this scenario may not be when sales peak but rather while walking down the sidewalk and getting a wave and a horn honk from someone you have known only as a customer as they drive by. Then comes the realization, they’ve probably become more than a customer and you have become more than a merchant.

Business owners reading this, do you agree? Disagree? What have you done to be that place customers feel a personal tie to?