The Value of Buying Local

December 4, 2013 in Blog

This weekend, I brought some out of town guests to my local runing store, the Lucky Foot to look at shoes. It’s my favorite store. And no, it isn’t cheap. Cheap isn’t what they do. So when I was asked why I’d rather spend $140 on shoes there when I can get them for less – sometimes even way less – at Dick’s… well, the answer is complicated, even though the decision to shop and buy local for me is quite simple.

The first most obvious reason to shop local is for service. Local business owners have a lot of skin in the game and as a result, they really do go the extra mile. (That’s funny – you see – because it’s a running store. Get it? Ok, well…) But it’s not just that there’s often more at stake, it’s also because there’s more passion. I buy what I need but I shop for what I want and often that’s connection – connection to people who are serving their passionate purpose in life. So yeah, maybe I “need” a new pair of running shoes, but what I want is to experience the joy of talking about running and footwear and shin splints and trails with someone who lights up talking about that.

When I’m shopping local and shopping small business, I am often speaking with the people who have the authority to make decisions that directly affect my shopping experience. Because of that, I have more power to influence the experience as well. Yeah, maybe that means I can ask for a discount because I brought my friends, or because my daughter thinks I’m fast. Honestly, I ask for discounts at big box stores more often than I do at local stores. And I’ve gotten them there. But that’s not what I mean. In local stores, if I’m talking to an owner I am probably also talking to the lead buyer, the marketer, and the social media manager. So if I pick up a pair of shoes and ask if the manufacturer invests in sustainable practices, or complies with human rights policies, or has a product (red) line… I have the opportunity to invite in a conversation in something I’m passionate about and potentially make new products available. At the big box store I can have the conversation but there’s little likelihood that I can influence actual change.

And then there’s the question of buying local. So it may indeed cost more. In the moment. But over time, I win in value. And if I can influence others to shop and buy locally, the value increases. Here’s why. Studies show the more dolalrs that are spent in locally owned businesses stay in the local community. There’s a great deal of variability, but roughly, it’s double, That is to say if 30% of the money spent at a big box store stays in the local community, 60% of the money spent at a locally owned business stays in the community. More money from big box stores funds the tax dodging c-suite who don’t even know my community exists. I don’t mean to characterize big box stores as the root of all evil. I’m just saying that largely, the people who stand to make the most profit from the dollars spent there are concerned with their community which is far removed from mine. And my community is – my kid’s school, my local volutneer fire department, my running community. These are the people that support Girls on the Run. They hand me water and high fives at races. They directly support and raise money for families, right here, in my neighborhood that are struggling. The more money that is able to support the needs of my tightly localized community, the less dependence our community has on allocations from tax dollars at the state or federal level. Will buying locally result in a reduction of local taxes? Probably not. Certainly not without a grand shift in consumer buying habits. But buying locally is about considering the entire value chain. It’s about maintaining localized decision making. It’s about empowerment. It’s about relationships. It’s about everything I care about. I get all of that for free with the purchase of a $140 pair of running shoes.

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