If there was one small change you could make that has potential to have a serious positive impact on the economic success of the area would you agree to give it a shot?
Assuming you answered yes, I'm happy to tell you there is something you can do. And it's actually pretty easy. You can commit to spending as much of your holiday shopping budget as possible locally.
I realize this column may be after the start of the holiday shopping season (which I think is still considered to be the day after Thanksgiving but it seems as if Christmas started appearing well before that), but I'm sure many people have not finished their shopping yet. I don't think it'd be wrong to guess that some haven't even started. And besides, this message is applicable year round, both for holiday and non-holiday shopping.
A considerable amount of money leaks out of the area throughout the year. And many of us (most of us? all of us?) belong to the guilty party. We buy products online, spend days out of town shopping with friends, and buy services from providers out of the area. Sometimes it's necessary, sometimes it's for an enjoyable weekend away. But for all of us, there are probably times when money is spent outside of the area that easily could have been spent locally. The statistics clearly show there is tremendous value to a community when more money is spent locally. So why do we still choose not to spend locally?
I'd like to challenge some of the excuses.
Excuse: It is more expensive to buy products and services locally. This is a broad blanket statement. There are competitive businesses right here at home. Is this excuse perception or reality? Price shopping, with inclusion of local businesses, is to your benefit. Additionally, if you are driving to get the product, do you figure in time and fuel to that expense?
Excuse: There isn't as big of a variety locally. Sometimes that may be true. But did you check everywhere in town? Did you ask the store if they could get the style you want if they don't carry it? Sometimes stores need to hear from customers to know what they are missing. If you aren't asking for products and letting them know what you'd like, how are they supposed to know?
Excuse: There isn't as unique of a selection for gifts. When is the last time you explored our local shopping options? All of them. There are some great places with some very unique gifts. I've been asked many times where I bought a gift, only to have my response met with surprise when I tell them someplace local.
Excuse: It is easier to go out of town and pick everything up all at once. For many, heading out of town for a day or weekend of shopping is fun. I enjoy it. But before heading out, make a rule that you will not buy any products you can purchase back home. Every cent helps, so choosing to buy locally what you can, helps.
Excuse: Customer service is better in other communities. There is good and bad customer service everywhere. Don't give up on local shopping because of a bad experience. Shop local more because of the good experiences! And by all means, help a business understand when you have a bad experience so they have the opportunity to improve.
More persuasive than the statistics about shopping local is the idea that we can each make a small change that will collectively make a big impact. We all want more jobs in our community. We all want a vibrant, active community. We don't all have endless time to devote to this, but making a commitment to spend more of our shopping budget locally should be an easy decision.
For those of you already committed to shopping locally as often as possible, thank you. Can you help spread the word? Can you help challenge people to buy products and services locally? Do you know someone who is overdue for a visit to our own stores? Can you invite them to go with you one day?
Start now with this holiday season, and it goes well, why not commit to spending a percentage of all shopping locally? Not just for the holiday season, but well into next year so that by the time next holiday shopping season rolls around, it's a habit for you to commit as much of your holiday shopping budget locally as possible. It is one small change that can make a huge difference.
Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.