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Shopping local is everyone’s problem


I came across an interesting post when scrolling on my phone the other day. You may have seen it – a picture of the 600 block of Main Street Swan River on a Saturday morning and not a vehicle in sight down the entire side of the block.
The post was captioned, “Swan Valley Residents: Before you shop online... check to see what the local businesses have... if you can show them a lower deal, see if they will match it. THEN, if you can't find what you want, go shop online. We are killing our communities!”
It gave food for thought and it sparked some interesting discussion. Comments ranged from supporting the original post to arguing points on price and operating hours, in which both sides had some very good input.
In the end, one thing was absolutely crystal clear for me – this isn’t a problem that the business owners or the customers have to fix. It’s something they BOTH need to fix.
Because I know this industry best, I’m going to use an example of a problem the Star and Times faces. You all know us best as a newspaper but we are also a print shop – if it’s a paper product, you name it and we can probably get it made for you.
BUT, we have a big problem and it’s the fact that we are often overlooked in the age of easily accessible online print shops like Vistaprint. Is it that their pricing is better? Not necessarily. Is it that our production time is not as fast? Not at all. In my opinion it is because we are not as available online – we don’t have the staff and the dollars to have a comprehensive website like they do – and therefore we are not considered as often.
But, what isn’t taken into account when people place orders from these online print shops is the customer service and design we can offer. And, most importantly, what your business allows us to do in our community.
Here’s a couple scenarios to consider. A non-profit wants to order tickets and posters for a fundraising event they have coming up. They also want people to know about it so they want to advertise in the local newspaper to help get the word out.
Option 1: They price out their tickets and posters at the local newspaper/print shop and find out they aren’t much different than ordering online and they will have them back sooner. While they are dealing with their purchase they also inquire about getting an advertisement. They are happy to find out that the owner is willing to donate to their cause by getting a deeply discounted or even free advertisement.
Option 2: They purchase their tickets and posters online and, when they approach the owner of the newspaper for the donation of advertising space, the owner has to charge them full price because they money just isn’t there to offer back to organizations who don’t support local business. Is Vistaprint donating advertising space or a prize for your silent auction in return for your business. I think not.
There’s no way to sugar coat it, but this is how it works with every single business in our community. If we aren’t supporting them, they don’t have the money to support us.
But, as I mentioned, it isn’t entirely the customer’s fault either. As businesses we have to make sure that we are doing the right things to keep our customers and even make new ones. And, we have to do this by continually providing our customers the items they want at prices they can afford while giving good customer service and reminding them of what we can offer.
It’s true that some business owners can get greedy, selling the same widget for $10 as you can buy at Walmart for $6. And, while I understand that maybe it’s not economical to be able to offer Walmart pricing, it’s not unrealistic to ask $7 and people will pay that to not have to drive out of town. In the end, you will probably sell more widgets at the affordable price then you would at the inflated price and actually make more money.
When we really think about it, that’s the biggest problem we have with shopping local. Yes, sometimes hours aren’t as convenient as they would be if we lived in the city but we chose to live in a small town where people matter and get to spend time with their families, so that’s one of the sacrifices we make.
Do I always shop locally? The simple answer is no. I don’t think there is a single person – including our business owners themselves – that doesn’t at times shop outside the community. There are some items that just can’t be found in a smaller town like ours and need to be brought in. I, like many others, also refuse to overpay by an unreasonable amount at stores that choose to overcharge by extreme amounts.
BUT, the one thing I will always do is check and compare first. Often, I will find a product at the same or even better price as online at a store I wasn’t expecting that from. And, sometimes, I’m justified at shopping online but my one rule is to ALWAYS give local business a chance before I look elsewhere.