Buy local … or not

The chorus to “Buy Local” has become the new “Buy American.” This is especially the case with the corporate shenanigans going on. GE doesn’t pay taxes. The executives of Well Fargo and B of A should be in jail and Wal-mart is getting sued for discrimination by just about every woman who worked there in the last 10 years.  And even those companies, like the beloved Apple – make their computers and iPods in China with Korean parts.

The only way us common folk can fight back is to buy local. And it makes sense. Only 15% of the revenue from a big box store like Wal-mart or Target finds its way into the local economy – while the rest goes to suppliers, stockholders and c-level management to points unknown. Compare that to 45+% that stays in town with a locally owned store. Hard to argue with those numbers. You buy locally and you help your neighbor and probably yourself as well.

Main Street – Red Lodge, Montana

While buying locally may cost a few more cents on the dollar, I would hope that most us would be willing to help out fellow neighbors. And by patronizing local business, in theory you should get better service. After all – your neighbors know you and they can take advantage of that fact.

Technically local businesses should have an unfair advantage. In addition to their knowledge of their customers, they can adjust to local market conditions. In the time it takes for a big box store to even get market intelligence – their local competition is out the gate with a new product line and a promotion to match. Combine that with their superior customer service – any price premium should be discounted.

In theory, this should be the case. But such is not necessarily the way it is.

Recently, I’ve been helping out my parents in Montana. As with most people in their 70’s and 80’s, health-care is a constant issue. And central to elderly health-care is prescription drugs and their relationship with the pharmacy. Such is the case with my parents and their primary pharmacy – which is locally owned.

My parents have been very good customer of Pharmacy One, for twenty plus years. You would think that sort of relationship would warrant at the very least, good service. Rather than go into copious detail, lets just say … the help is rude, seldom is a prescription sent out when promised, and they charge extra to put something in the mail.

Yet this business will be the first to complain about the invasion of the corporate behemoths, Walgreen and CVS. “They can’t compete because of the bulk buying advantage the giants have. The can’t compete against their advertising budgets. No mention is made of the fact that Pharmacy One has been a member of the Billings community for decades, serving generations of customers. Nor is there any mention of the advantage they have because of their key location right on the ground floor of the main hospital in the city.

Their negative attitude is evident with of their employees. It’s as if they’re just waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to fall.” And they act, when that shoes drops, they’ll be waiting in line for a bed at the shelter on Montana Ave. They don’t say it, but it’s almost like it’s a requirement to shop there if you live in Billings. After all,  they’re a local business – and aren’t you supposed to support local business.

Here’s my conundrum . I am adamantly in favor of buying local. Personally I think by bringing the power back to Main Street we can retake our country and our lives from the unscrupulous corporate hacks that have hijacked our futures. This extra flow of money into our communities can go to help our children’s schools, our elderly, and our less fortunate – on top of it, our own wallets.

But all you local businesses – please help me out. I don’t want to spend my money at business only because it’s local. I’m willing to you give the first chance if your local, and I may even give you a second chance if you screw up. But you have to show me you want my business and you care about me. If you don’t already know me – take the time to get to know me. Then call me by my name – and remember what I buy. If you get a deal on something you know I like, let me know and let me share in your savings. Show me you’re part of the community and want to make it better, like the chain stores can’t. Make me part of your extended family – and I’ll do the same and I’ll be loyal. It won’t matter if I have to pay a couple of dollars more – you’re family.

But to justify those couple of dollars, you have to show it and meet me half way. I don’t want a “woe is me” attitude from your employees – or you. I want you to understand that having a business in my community, in my neighborhood – is not a right, it’s a privilege … a privilege that can be taken away by me, and my friends and neighbors. If you’re cool with all this – then you’ll have a great customer. You’ll have great customer that’s loyal and will refer his friends to you.

My conditions may seem a bit harsh, but they have to be. Owning a business isn’t supposed to be easy. But at least you know where I stand and you can act accordingly. Most people just defect and run to the big box stores without any notice. I’m laying my cards on the table.

I wish just being local was enough for me to be a customer “forever after.” But I think giving you the first (and second) chance, and being my default choice is more than fair.

Now the next move is yours.

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If you’re on Twitter please follow me … there’s cool stuff happening over there too @clayforsberg.

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