Contributed Column

Local Matters 

by Erik Filkorn

 What Buying Local Really Means To The Business Community 

"Buy local” is a slogan that we’re all quite familiar with by now. You hear it from Gov. James Douglas in TV spots and you see it on muddy Subaru bumpers. But the thought that most people take away — buy locally grown food — is only part of the story. Vermonters have no problem seeing the value in supporting local agriculture. After all, some of the best food on earth is grown right here. The part that too many people miss is that some of the best goods and services in the world are grown right here, too, and if we don’t make good use of them, we all lose. 

Every dollar that we spend out of state is gone. Have your printing done in Idaho, those dollars feed another economy while printing presses in Burlington and Barre stand idle. Hire a marketing consultant in Los Angeles, pay a big-city premium, and then try to explain to them how to talk to Vermonters. Buy your office supplies from wingnuts.com and track your package online. Why? A local supplier can offer comparable services at competitive prices. 

This is not to say that national retailers aren’t sometimes the wise choice; the trick of it is to make that your second thought, not your first. 

Here in Richmond, I know that the owner of our local hardware store will do everything he can to compete with the box stores. He’ll even find me things that they can’t. And it isn’t just about price. It’s about service and trust. 

You know how you’d feel if one of your customers decided to go out of state for something you could provide. Like yours, locally owned businesses go out of their way to take good care of their customers. Providing good service is important to local business owners because they live with the impact of their decisions every day. 

A business owner from Stowe put it to me quite succinctly, “How can I expect people to hire me if I’m not supporting other local businesses?” Word of mouth is a highly effective form of advertising. The more local purchasing you do, the more people will talk about what you do. And if you aren’t getting what you need from local businesses, tell them. 

Think about who is providing your Internet service and where you do your banking and buy your suits or business insurance. Chances are there is a reputable local business that can see to your needs. A recent study in Chicago showed that $100 spent at locally owned businesses generated $68 in additional local economic activity vs. only $43 from chain stores (you can learn more about it at www.bigboxtoolkit.com). 

Many organizations in Vermont can provide resources to help you adopt this purchasing strategy. Visit the Web sites of Local First Vermont (www.localfirstvermont.org), Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (www.vbsr.org), the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce (www.vermont.org), or even a local business association such as the one I belong to: the Richmond Area Business Association (www.richmondvermont.com). There is plenty of information out there to help you start localizing your business-buying. 

I would like to propose a New Year’s resolution for every business owner in Vermont that is more than just painless. It could improve your own bottom line. All you have to do is promise yourself that you’ll at least try to buy from a local business before you order from megacompany.com. Give your neighbors first shot at the deal. It takes only a minute and the best part is the local business you buy from may be interested in using your services or may recommend you to others. • 

Erik Filkorn is a media, community and government relations consultant based in Richmond. 

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