Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ten Reasons Why Buying Local is Better

I talk every now and then about the importance of buying local, but it's usually in abstract ways like: 45% of money spent locally stays in the community, do you want to live in a world where the only place to buy things is Wal-Mart, etc.  This holiday season, I have shopped 100% local, and I've had so many positive experiences that it hasn't ever seemed like work (shopping almost always seems like work to me).  I'll admit, I don't have to buy nearly as many gifts as other people, this time of year, but I'm not just talking about buying things, I'm talking about just supporting all local businesses.  Even if it costs a little more, the return you get in warm fuzzies more than makes up for it.

1. Customer Service
Obviously customer service is never a guarantee.  Sometimes people have a bad day, or are just jerks, but I have personally had some of the best customer service experiences with local businesses, and it's likely just due to the fact that they actually care.  If you work for or own a local business, you want to be there.  They're not in it for the money, they're doing it for the love, and that is just an awesome thing.  When you see people happy to be doing they are doing, that is a great feeling, and it radiates out.  Sure, local businesses want to sell you something, but they also want you to come back, and they get that by being real people and (hopefully) selling high-quality stuff.

2. Knowing where something came from
If you go to Wal-Mart, you can hazard a guess at where the stuff you're buying comes from, but likely it's just a warehouse in China and no one knows more than that.  If you shop local, you can ask the business owner where he or she purchased an item, and they will actually know.  It might be a local artist or craftsperson, or it might be a company you've never heard of that you end up liking.  Either way, it's nice to actually know what you're taking into your home, instead of just buying a bunch of random crap mindlessly.  And if you're giving something as a gift, it's nice to tell the recipient, "This came from an artist collective in Peru that only employs women who have escaped abusive relationships.  For every item sold, they get 50% of the proceeds."  Knowing where something came from makes it more valuable because value isn't really what something cost, it's how much value you place upon it.

3. Bring able to ask questions
A friend of mine recently posted on facebook that she had seen a dress in a Sears commercial but couldn't find the dress either in stores or online.  I suggested that she email Sears and see if they could help her out, but I haven't heard what happened after that, or if she's still waiting for a response.  (UPDATE 12/16/2012, I have heard, see below)  Recently, I wanted an item from a local store near where I work. They had posted a picture of the item on facebook, but by the time I got there, it had sold out.
Obviously it sold out, I mean, yeah, it's awesome!
I was upset, but the employee I spoke to told me that they would likely get more in soon.  I sent the store a facebook message asking if they would hold one for me when they arrived, and sure enough, they were happy to do so.  They messaged me when it came in, and I picked it up on my lunch break. SCORE!

4. Putting a face on a product
When you buy local, you also know who sold something to you.  It's not a random cashier at Barnes & Noble 2606 (where I used to work), who may never be there beyond the one time you saw her, or who is just punching the clock until it's time to leave (again, me).  You can go into a store and say, I bought this last week from Steve, and it broke right away, or I bought this from Steve and it's so great I need two more!

5. Giving direct feedback
Likewise, in a smaller local setting, your feedback really has the power to make things happen.  If you buy something that really sucks, you can tell the store employees or owner, and maybe they stop carrying it.  You can make suggestions, and not feel like you're throwing your words into a random void where they may or may not be heard.  Certainly the store doesn't have to listen to you, but it's still nice to be heard.

6. Local Commitment
Who do your kids go to when their sports teams need boosters?  Who supports Library Summer Reading Programs and donates prizes?  Who chips in for block parties, 4th of July parties, centennial and bi-centennial events?  Local businesses are owned by members of the community and want to help the community thrive.

7. Unique Items
See above.  You think I could get that kick ass bottle opener anywhere else?  I could maybe get it at two other stores in Rhode Island, and I'm just guessing--I certainly haven't seen it anywhere else.  Wherever I wind up in the world, I will see that bottle opener and it will make me smile and remember a time in my life when I lived in Lil' Rhody.  Do you want to have the same stuff as everyone else, or do you want something you can't get anywhere else?

8. Expertise
When I go into Target, I don't expect to be able to ask a store employee which is the best t-shirt, or if something will last.  Certainly they have people in various departments who can answer some questions, but a lot of the items in major big box stores are not built to last a lifetime.  If I'm going to spend a lot of money on something, I want to talk to someone who knows something about it.  Employees of smaller stores may not know everything about everything, but they are likely familiar with the brand and the standard of excellence that that brand has.  When you're personally choosing to buy something for your store and sell it, there's a higher standard than stores that just buying to fill a niche.  I recently was in Target with BF looking at skillets.  Apparently, both Paula Deen and Rachael Ray have their own line of cookware. I would likely go Ray because they're orange and I find that fun, but they also cost $100+  If I'm going to spend that much money on something I don't know how to buy, I'd like to have a conversation with someone about it.

9. They're Only Still Around Because They're Good
It's much easier to keep a corporate hub going.  New businesses rarely turn a profit in the first year, and for something that's just a one person or partnership operation, that means they either have to do well or sink.  Corporations can support flagging outposts on the hopes that they'll eventually become profitable, but for smaller businesses, unless they're run by people with trust funds, it's likely that they just know what they're doing and have something people want.  Why not stop by and see?

10. Warm Fuzzies
I love my silly small city despite how backward it is sometimes, and I like doing things to make it better.  This is why I go to work every day determined to help my neighbors and this is why I pay a little more for things made and sold around here. We recently went to Yelp's Merry Marketplace, which was a pop-up shopping mall that featured only local businesses and restaurants.  It was possibly the most fun night I've had in a long time.  We got free food samples from restaurants I know and love and places I've never been (but will be visiting soon); and we got to find new and exciting treasures from local shops.  We got to chat with the people making and selling goods and experience firsthand the pride they take in what the do, and the quality of work.  It was held in the converted mill building where the Wintertime Farmer's Market is, and it was just a beautiful and fun night.  I think everyone I went with managed to finish off their holiday shopping lists, and I left stuffed to the gills and slightly drunk (I wasn't driving), which was awesome.

I know there are many more than ten reasons to shop local, so leave your reasons in the comments.  My biggest reason, that I didn't add to the list, is that it assuages some of the guilt I place on myself for buying things.  I keep reading articles about CEO's rate of pay skyrocketing while their employees' remains stagnant, and thought I know that my frugal self can't make a difference in that situation, I actually can on the local level.  It's nice to feel important, and it's nice to live in a land where Wal-Mart is just one of many stores, and one that I can avoid (Wal-Mart is the worst, OMG I hate Wal-Mart).

UPDATE:  Apparently, she has had no luck so far, and posted one of her recent responses to the Sears folk on facebook.  It was too awesome not to share:
"You tell me you know NOTHING about where i can get it?! You are trying to tell me you have NO INFORMATION about a dress you displayed in a commercial trying to get women to spend money on dresses, in your store. UH- HELLO- I'M A FOXY YOUNG WOMAN TRYING TO BUY A DRESS, WHICH, I WILL GLADLY TELL YOUNG OTHER PRETTY WOMEN WHERE I GOT IT. I am simply trying to give you money and buy a dress, from you, in which you decided to put in your commercial. I am just a blue collar girl that takes pleasure in leopard print high to low dresses. So hook a girl up, for crying out loud."

I think that proves my point even better than my long list.

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