There’ve been a few posts that have caught my attention recently on the subject of small business and the buy local theme. It started with Drew McLellan's piecequestioning the decision by the Iowa Department of Economic Development to utilize a marketing firm from outside of Iowa ― to promote Iowa. I was left wondering: if the purpose of the IDED is to tout the great wealth of resources available here, then by their decision aren’t they saying, "We're great, oh, except for our PR businesses?"
There was also the post by Michael Libbie, “Small Business and Customer Service– A Myth?” This blog expressed the importance of local businesses to provide good customer service if they really want to keep customers. Michael’s post referenced another by Tom Vander Well, “Customer Service is Crucial to Local Small Business.” Tom details a few examples of his attempts to buy locally, only to be disappointed and inconvenienced in the effort.
All three posts addressed the buy local quandary of “being neighborly” in our consumerism versus being a consumer first. Really who owes whom when it comes to buying locally owned? As small businesses owners we can’t clamor for people to buy from us if we don’t address the challenge of delivering useful and well executed services. As consumers we want ease, affordability, and thoughtful service. What to do?
Of course, I can restate the tangible, data-driven benefits for buying locally: keep more revenue in the state, support unique businesses, invest in your neighbor who has invested in your community, and buy from independents as they support our local nonprofits more than the corporate giants. BUT, I would also add that we buy stuff and services because it meets our desires and expresses our values. “I am what I consume.”
With that as an additional purpose of consumerism, what do we really want that vast quantity of stuff we own to represent? I suggest that when we support our locally owned merchants, we are actually investing in the American dream of business ownership. Many people dream of breaking out of the cubicle and forging the frontier of entrepreneurship ― but don’t because they are afraid of failure. I think our dollars are placeholders not only for the things we get, but for what we encourage in others.
So, yes small business owners need to listen to their customers and put that foremost on the list of the gazillion other issues demanding their time. But don’t let the incidence of a bad experience with a local shop steer you away from the major point. (Besides, I bet everyone has anecdotes of poor experiences buying big and corporate too.) When things don’t go well, let the merchant know (nicely please) and then move on down the street to the next locally owned store and try again. I expect where you had a bad experience in one shop, you may find quite the opposite in another. The alternative is to have absolutely no voice and no choice if you simply write off small and go with the big entities driven by consumption alone.