Over the past few weeks I've seen and heard a bunch of advertising promoting "Small Business Saturday" on November 24th. The event, originally started by American Express in 2010, promotes shopping at brick and mortar small businesses in the local community, and was meant to offset the two other heavy promotional events of national retailers: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The question I have is: shouldn't every day be "Small Business Saturday"?
I live in Sheridan, Indiana, a community of just 2,667 according to the last census. We have a lot of small businesses here, and I try to use them as much as possible. It's true that sometimes it's more expensive to shop in Sheridan, but if I want the convenience of driving four blocks to the grocery store for milk or eggs on a Saturday morning, then I need to support the local grocery that sells those items. Sure, I could get both the milk and the eggs for less, sometimes substantially less, if I go to the other grocery chains just a few miles away, but then eventually our little grocery would probably disappear.
I was in a meeting the other day with a small business person, and was stunned when he mentioned that he was using a well-known online company for the printing of business cards and letterhead. This person runs a local small business, but doesn't buy locally himself. When I asked "why" his answer was, "Too expensive". I think he's making a mistake.
It's obvious to me that if you want your local community to shop (or eat) at your establishment, then you need to return the favor. Now I'm not saying to ignore the cost of locally sold products; cost is always a factor. What I am saying is that it is vital to the success of any small business to support the community not only through philanthropy, but also through good old-fashioned commerce. "I'll shop at your store, if you shop at mine." The increased cost of buying locally will hopefully be offset by increased revenues from other local customers. And even if it doesn't completely off-set, a bit of community "good will" can never hurt either.
And while we are talking about it, I think that shopping local starts by joining the local chamber of commerce. Some businesses don't see how the chamber can benefit them, but it all comes down to one word, "relationships". That's what "Small Business Saturday" is really all about - starting and maintaining relationships. People do business with who they know and trust, and small businesses need to build those relationships to increase business and stay in business.
So...where do you get your business cards?
It would be almost impossible for someone to not know about the trend toward locally sourced foods. We see independent and chain grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels all making major efforts to support local farming. Public school districts are on board too, working hard to source more meats and produce from local vendors and farms. In big cities, community gardens and food co-op’s are springing up, and people are finding space in their own back yards to plant at least a small garden. I personally participate too by planting a garden each year in my own backyard. I even expanded my garden last year by adding a new growing bed. But, with all that said, I’d like to suggest that we all take this trend one step further.
Why not try to do everything locally?
I use a local company to print my stationary and business cards. I use a local, independent CPA firm to do my taxes. I participate in my local Chamber of Commerce, and in the events sponsored by other local chambers, and I try to patronize local member businesses. When I meet someone for coffee or lunch I always try to go to a locally owned and operated business instead of a chain with headquarters out of the State. So, why do I do this? Because, I want those businesses to use me!
Using local businesses performs two functions. First, it keeps money in the local area and strengthens the local economy in general. Second, it builds relationships between me, my business and the businesses that I use. And any business owner will tell you that relationships are what make a company successful. People and businesses buy from others with whom they have a favorable relationship. It’s not always about cost. In fact, many times local businesses can provide products or services that the non-local businesses can’t. And, most important of all, local and independent businesses are more likely to appreciate your business!
So the next time you need to buy something, print something, or contract out a professional service, remember to keep it local. You’ll be happy you did!