Do you shop locally?
Back in March, Amanda and Patrick walked into our new office in the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, R.I., with a blank canvas. The floors were rugged with history of the candy-making machines that once adorned them and the walls just a flat white. In about 1,050 square feet, they’d finally stomp their feet deeply into the earth (er, wood floor) and say “This is where we’ll be for a while.”
If you know us, you know that the past four years of BuzzFarmers history has been on the road. From coast to coast, Amanda and Patrick gypsied their way around, making new friends and colleagues along the way. Over time, they realized that it’s pretty hard to grow a business based on the schedule of freelancers and accommodating that schedule with extra nights and weekends of your own. So, they decided to hire locally, and they also decided that locally meant Rhode Island – because they love Rhode Island.
Enter Hope Artiste Village, the place that Amanda and Patrick met for the first time: April 15, 2009. Back then, it was an up and coming community of small businesses, and today it’s a currently happening community of small businesses. When they walked into our unit, 8113, they knew it was home.
Over the next couple of weeks, they’d scour every inch of Rhode Island to make sure they shopped local for office equipment, antiques, and décor for the space.
We made a commitment to local retailers and creators.
Our live edge conference table was custom-built by the famous David Ellison at Lorimer Workshop, and over the course of a week, Jamie McGrath, the owner of PineHarbor, a local shedmaker, would visit, fall totally in love with Amanda’s idea of custom-building sheds as office pods, and come up with indoor, fire-code-friendly, barn-like plans. Within a week, they’d be crafted and painted at his workshop, and in the course of eight hours, they would be installed in our new office.
Then they’d snag all of our office chairs from family-owned businesses like National Office Furniture and BSI. Our décor would span from artists across Rhode Island with fruitful trips to spots like the Rhode Island Antiques Mall (couch, lamps, and more), Kreatelier (pillows), Frog & Toad (metal farm animals), Rhody Craft (artwork and décor), and Craftland (artwork & décor). Stretching outside of Rhode Island, our sign was hand-carved by Scott Zuziak at Lazy River Studio.
Finally, Amanda and Pat would get their hands dirty and build all of the desks themselves, with some help from a local friend Brandon Bruzzi, who built our very popular stand-up desk.
Did your CEO ever build a desk for you? Ours did! And all of that is just a speck of our dedication to giving back to our community.
Why is it important for all businesses to shop local?
I won’t get pushy, but when you’re a startup, you think you need to buy all of your stuff off the Internet – IKEA and Amazon, for instance – because it’s cheap and easy.
Amanda would definitely agree that it would have been much cheaper and much easier to go that route. Their only defeat was the day they spent an entire day scouring the entire state of Rhode Island looking for neat under-desk drawers before breaking down and getting normal ones. They did replace all of the handles with fun ones they found, though.
They also spent an entire weekend making and painting the desks, and days waiting for things to be installed, like our sheds, table, and white boards made from old frames we found around the state.
Do you support your local community and the other small businesses in your neighborhoods? We’re just asking.
When we put our dollars to work in locally owned businesses, the hidden yet huge benefit is that the majority of the money stays local.
Sources vary on the percentages, but ShopLocally.com puts the numbers at 45% of every dollar staying in the community, versus just 15 cents when that dollar is spent at a chain location.
ShopLocally has some great infographics and explanations on the site that put things in an intuitive format, but a very simple example would be as follows: John buys hardware from Jim’s store; Jim buys flowers from Jane’s shop; Jane buys dinner at Jack’s restaurant; and Jack uses John for his accounting service. This circle of spending helps keep money local, which means the local economy does better.
Local business owners are also much more likely to invest in local causes, charities, and community services, because they’re served by these being part of the community.
If local communities keep more of their money local, the need for assistance from elsewhere dwindles and disappears. It also builds more of a sense of community.
Many argue that the big chains provide more jobs and bring more money into the local economy, but studies just don’t back that up in any way. The jobs are generally lower-wage, part-time positions with fewer benefits. Many times the management is brought in from another location, which doesn’t help those locals looking for higher paying spots. You can be sure that aspects like accounting, payroll, HR, and many more are taken care of by headquarters, which means money that could be staying in the community is shipped elsewhere.
According to the Small Business Administration, there are more than 23 million small businesses in the United States – defined as having fewer than 500 employees – that create 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.
The U.S. Commerce Dept. also says that small businesses employ about half of all U.S. workers. Numbers like these should put your mind a little more at ease about the ongoing fear of big box stores putting all of the mom-and-pops out of business, but the threat is still there, and we’re on the side of helping our community.
With that said …
Big retailers are not evil, despite what some may say – they’re just successful. They didn’t start big; they started small, just like you (and us!). As a business owner, you’ve undoubtedly experienced some growing pains at some point in expanding, whether that means adding a new employee or another office.
You probably understand, then, how much less nimble you become when this happens. The more people involved in decision-making, the more logistics involved in multiple ship sites, the more regulations involved, the less easy it becomes to “turn on a dime.”
When these things affect a major chain, it’s even more difficult. The Titanic couldn’t avoid the iceberg, even when it saw it coming, but a sailboat would have easily pulled right around that sucker and kept on cruising.
[Tweet “The Titanic couldn’t avoid the iceberg, but a sailboat would’ve pulled right around that sucker.”]
So, with the economic downturn since 2008, new regulations every other week, and the rapid expansion of online retailers, many of the big boxes are only a few nautical miles away from their own iceberg. They might not sink, but they’re throwing things overboard quickly. While there are definitely upsides to this situation as a small business owner, there will undoubtedly be bad economic side effects to the communities.
This means more lost jobs, which means less disposable income to go around. It also could mean tax schemes from the local government to try to compensate for the loss of revenues and to find a use for that big empty building and parking lot. That’s a nutshell version, but you see that there can be many unwanted ramifications.
Fortunately, the “shop local” movement has a lot of traction, and this is fantastic. In fact, it’s so popular that the big boys have made attempts to capitalize on it. I mentioned the website ShopLocally.com before, but take a look at ShopLocal.com. You would assume that it’s similar and promotes local businesses based on the name, but it’s just the opposite. Instead, it tells you where the best deals are to be found in your local area with the major chains … who are funding the site. Not only that – it has the backing of major news organizations.
It’s a tough fight for all small businesses, but it’s not a futile one. Not at all. Small and large companies can coexist, but the benefits of supporting local business ripple throughout a community.
Have you seen the benefits of supporting local business in action? Any suggestions for small companies? Let us know in the comments!