I don’t like following crowds and have a naturally occurring cynicism of trends. That said, there’s one holiday promotional movement that strikes a real chord with me.
I’m talking about the “Small Business Saturday” or “Shop Small Saturday,” whatever name one chooses as a label. It’s this Saturday (Nov. 27), and the concept is to shop at the privately owned businesses in large and small towns across the nation as a way of supporting all they do to help their local communities.
There are a few time-honored traditions on Thanksgiving. Like turkey and stuffing, or football and napping.
Or, increasingly more over the years, shopping. With retailers rabidly encouraging shoppers to get an early jump on the Christmas season gift-buying frenzy, the day after Thanksgiving has emerged as America’s celebration of shopping.
The day even has a rather ominous sounding name: Black Friday.
When store owners pack up their holiday decorations next month, there’s one thing Karen Wilmot hopes they will leave up — a sign that reminds residents to shop local.
As director of Swain County’s Chamber of Commerce, Wilmot handed out 100 free signs to local businesses a week before Thanksgiving. In large red print, the signs say “Shop Local,” with “Make a difference in your community” underneath. Wilmot said it was the perfect time to encourage local shopping.
“With the holiday time upon us, everyone always thinks, ‘Let’s shop out of town, let’s go to the mall, let’s go somewhere and wait for that early bird 5 a.m. special,’” said Wilmot. “I thought ‘Why not roll it out when people are in the mood to shop?’”
But that doesn’t mean the local shops stop needing local customers after the holiday season ends.
“This isn’t just something that we want to stress during the holidays, but every day,” said Wilmot.
According to Wilmot, many business owners were pleased with the initiative, and some have reported that it has helped sales increase incrementally.
Wilmot said though there hasn’t been explosive growth in sales, the shop local campaign, like many other grassroots efforts, will slowly catch on.
The chamber has also launched the 3/50 project, which encourages all citizens to spend a total of $50 a month at three local businesses they couldn’t live without.
In Wilmot’s view, anyone who values the community should support its businesses. The difference between supporting a chain or a local business could come down to a mother or father losing a job, Wilmot added.
“One person shopping at one store could make that difference,” said Wilmot.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce 2009 Business Directory. With the final throes of Christmas shopping underway this week, the message seemed particularly relevant and is reprinted here with permission.
It’s all about choices. The choice to order a book from Amazon or through your local bookstore. Whether to fill a prescription at Wal-Mart or a family-owned pharmacy. Pulling through the drive-thru at a fast-food chain or a local lunch counter.
Every day, we face choices about where to spend our dollars — and the health of the local economy rides on the collective outcome of our decisions.
“It is important for every resident in Haywood County to understand how money moves through our community,” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. “Strong communities and economies need the full support of the people to drive it.”
While the catch phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally” was born under the pretext of the environmental movement, it applies to the economy as well. If residents everywhere focus on building healthy economies in their own communities, the country will prosper.
It’s not always easy, however. Consumers are lured by big-box chain stores that boast the convenience of one-stop shopping and in some cases — though hardly all — lower prices. Buying online, from shoes to insurance, opens up a world of choices and the ease of armchair shopping.
But Haywood County residents, more than most, seem to understand the hidden costs to their community that such choices carry.
“The current state of our economy has caused everyone to rethink,” Hipps said. “If we want to maintain and improve our quality of life in Haywood County, it is essential to keep the cash flow moving throughout our county.”
In a quest to understand how money moves, we decided to follow a dollar through the community, from business to business. We picked a starting place, asked them to name a local business they support, then traced the dollar from one business to the next. Along the way, the business owners in the chain talked about their personal philosophy of buying local.
Each time that dollar was spent, bouncing from one place to another across the county, it created a positive ripple effect. The impact of a dollar spent locally — versus one that is shipped out of the county never to be seen again — is indeed a powerful thing.
As a downtown Waynesville business owner, Ed Kelley is finely attuned to the hum of local commerce. Kelley, a nature photographer, writer and musician, owns the gallery Ridge Runner Naturals along with his wife, Jo. Both go out of their way to support local businesses when they can — whether it’s buying tires or filling prescriptions.
“You may save money by going to a mass merchandiser, but when you think about how much of that money stays in the community, it is a small percentage,” Kelley said.
The value of supporting local businesses goes beyond the economy. It creates a sense of community, Kelley said.
“Whoever you do business with you get to know better. You get to know people and trust people,” Kelley said. “If you’ve established that, when things need to be done in the community, you already have that cohesiveness.”
There’s a third reason on his list for shopping local.
“To me, it is a matter of sustainability,” Kelley said. Giant retailers are prone to vacate an old strip mall for a new one, leaving an enormous hulking shell in their wake, and to Kelley, that’s not creating a sustainable community.
Kelley had a long list of local businesses that he supports, but one of his favorites is Smoky Mountain Coffee Roasters, a local coffeehouse that roasts its own beans.
“We feel good supporting them, and it is a good product,” Kelley said.
Kevin Duckett had successfully created a well-known brand of locally-roasted coffee beans when he decided to branch out and enter the retail side five years ago. He now runs a coffee shop cafe on the main streets of Hazelwood and churns out batches of the aromatic beans.
For Duckett, supporting other local businesses has become a way of life.
“When you spend a dollar at a shop that isn’t local, the profit portion goes straight to corporate, whether it is in New York, Atlanta or Seattle,” Duckett said. Those profits aren’t being reinvested in the community like they would by a local business owner.
“I bank here, buy groceries here, all the way to buying my vehicle here and paying property taxes,” Duckett said. “That local dollar gets spent over and over in the county. With a local business, it will stay in circulation within the county until somebody goes outside and spends it.”
Duckett has long competed with mass-produced brand name coffee sold on grocery store shelves, but the dreaded Starbucks had stayed at bay until recently.
While the “Buy Local” movement has been afoot for a while, environmental awareness has provided another motive. Duckett always buys local produce in season, for example.
“If a tomato is coming from California, the shipping and fuel used to bring that to us versus a tomato grown in Crabtree and sold at a local market — that’s going green, literally and figuratively,” Duckett said.
One of the businesses Duckett supports is a kindred cottage industry like his own just a few doors down, Hazelwood Soap Company.
For Diana Laursen, the evolution from a soap-making hobby to full-time business occurred quite by accident. Pregnant with her third baby and the ink barely dry on a new mortgage, Laursen’s husband was laid off from his job as a chemist.
“We were like, ‘Uh-oh. What are we going to do?’” Laursen said. She had been making soap as a hobby to sell at festivals after learning the recipe from her chemist husband. Down on their luck, they turned up the soap production and found a local store to carry it. After five years of mostly wholesale operations, they opened a storefront in 2006 and have become a primarily retail store.
“Our business is solely based on locals,” Laursen said. “It is definitely more of a working relationship with the community.”
Laursen credits her success to the conscious effort of people in Haywood County to shop local.
“What they really connect with is we have four kids. They know if they come in and buy lotion, I am going to take that money and go to the grocery store. I am like, ‘Great we are all going to eat tonight,’” said Laursen, whose four kids come to work with her. “People can see, ‘Oh, that one really does need shoes.’ They see us working as a real family-owned business.”
Laursen said there is a sort of tit-for-tat support among businesses in the community.
“There is an unspoken but conscious thing that we support each other,” Laursen said. “They notice another business owner coming into their store, and they go back there. Everybody knows who’s going where for lunch.”
In fact, one of the people who buys gift baskets from Laursen every Christmas is the same person her family gets their insurance through: Clay Dangerfield of State Farm in Canton.
Clay Dangerfield’s theory is that the local dollar is so powerful, it goes beyond recirculation but actually carries a multiplier effect.
“Let’s say we eat out at the Corner Sandwich Shop in Canton instead of a chain. If their business thrives, they will keep hiring. That is more people in this community who will have money,” Dangerfield said.
Dangerfield often gives out gift certificates to the Corner Sandwich shop to his customers at Christmas and on their birthdays, encouraging them to support local businesses as well. When people support local businesses, some of that money comes back to the community itself.
“Do you know how many times people come in and ask us to support this vacation bible school, this little league tournament, this cheerleading camp?” Dangerfield said.
A big-box retailer, even with a community-minded general manager or franchise owner, can’t get approval easily or quickly for donations or sponsorships.
While TV commercials luring people to buy their insurance over the Internet sound appealing, their promise of cheaper rates is a myth, Dangerfield said.
“When someone tells me they have Geico, I say, ‘Definitely let me give you a quote,’” Dangerfield said.
Buying local ensures that the shops will be there when you really need them. When his wedding anniversary rolls around, for example, Dangerfield is able to pop down the street during his lunch break and pick up a card and flowers for his wife at Polly’s Florist.
For Vicki Gregg, buying local supports more than the economy. It sustains the town itself.
“If you don’t have the small businesses, you don’t have a town,” Gregg said. “Each individual business is what makes a town.”
As a mill town, Canton isn’t exactly on the tourist circuit, but Gregg nonetheless gets her share of vacationers passing through who are drawn to the mom-and-pop feel.
“They say how much they love the town. They say there is so much charm,” Gregg said.
Those who support Polly’s Florist and Gifts, which has been among the ranks of Canton’s mom-and-pop shops since 1953, help keep that charm alive, like the customer who stopped in last weekend on a quest for a Christmas ornament to take to a party.
“She said, ‘I can’t wait to tell everyone I bought mine in downtown Canton,’” Gregg said.
The shopper told Gregg she could have gone to Wal-Mart, but the purchase would have felt like a chore and lacked a connection. Gregg could relate, making similar choices to support local businesses in her own life.
“They are like me. They are trying to make a living, and I feel like I should trade with them,” Gregg said. “It just gives me a good feeling.”
When she needed a small sign to keep people from parking in the loading zone reserved for her delivery van, she had to look no further than a sign shop down the street to fill the bill, WNC Sign World.
Charles Rathbone believes what goes around, comes around. If he expects others to buy local, he knows he’s got to do the same.
“We keep all of our business local, even our suppliers,” Rathbone said. “I try to find a local vendor even if I have to pay more. It creates a relationship and in a relationship you can have more control over the end product than going through a store where you are just an account number and dollar value.”
Rathbone makes signs of all sorts: laser-engraved, sand blasted, even brail. When people special-order signs from outside of the community, middle-men and laborers in another region make the money, Rathbone said.
Rathbone’s shop has grown from three employees when they opened in March 2008 to eight in little more than a year. A few jobs here, a few jobs there: it’s a testimony to the collective impact of small businesses in the economy when the public is willing to buy local.
“This community is really kind of unique,” Rathbone said. “It is like a family. People seek each other out. They really don’t want to go outside the area it seems like.”
When asked to pick a local business for the next stop on our local dollar journey, Rathbone rattled off a long list. Among them was the place where he buys all his appliances.
When Steve Hardin opened Haywood Appliance in 1978, the advent of big-box stores and mass retailers had not yet reached Haywood County. But thanks to the support of the community and the exceptional service he provides, his business remains strong.
“Service doesn’t mean how fast somebody can ring up a cash register,” Hardin said. “If you buy a refrigerator from us and it breaks down, it’s our staff who come fix it under warranty.”
Between sales and their factory-authorized warranty repair center, Hardin employs 16 people — not bad for a small business.
Hardin counters the notion that mass retailers are cheaper.
“They have propagated the image that they have lower prices. Customers automatically assume that’s where to go and don’t shop around,” Hardin said. “The problem is that is not necessarily always true.”
Hardin will go to great lengths not to shop at big-box stores.
“I personally boycott them if I can,” Hardin said. “There are times when I can’t find what I am looking for anywhere else, so I do have to end up going there for those items. But by far, we prefer to shop with independents.”
Lane Thaw, the CFO for Haywood Appliance, has researched statistics behind buying local versus at chains and dedicated a page to his findings on the company’s Web site. Of every dollar spent at a locally-owned store, 25 percent more remains in the community compared to a purchase at a big-box chain, which funnels off profits and consolidates functions.
“So many things are done at some central headquarters: accounts payable, accounts receivable, their lawyers, their bank, their insurance. The list goes on and on,” Thaw said. “But everyone we deal with is local and our dollars trickle out.”