Vote for Small Business … with Your Wallet

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I used to be a small business owner. I bought an historic 3-acre farm in southern Pennsylvania, with a gorgeous home and unbelievably large 2-story bank barn with stables. I converted the home into a Bed & Breakfast by adding in-bedroom bathrooms and upgrading the kitchen.

I invested in furnishings by buying from the town’s antique dealer. I sold old shutters from my farmhouse to a local furniture designer/builder who specialized in building with reclaimed wood. I bought sour cherries from a local grower for homemade cherry topping for my killer Belgian waffles. Locally, we supported each other.

From 2005 to mid-2008 I worked really hard to attract customers, and did so with some success. Then the economy took a nosedive. Business executives and honeymooners upruptly postponed their weekend jaunts, startling my fledgling B&B. By the end of 2008 I liquidated my business and sold the property.

Begrudgingly, I moved back to Southern California. I had to focus on the memories of living my dream, however short lived. That’s why I totally advocate the practice of shopping small businesses. The owners really appreciate the patronage. I know I did. And I reciprocated.small business

I ran across this article to share, from the Portland Press Herald. Find a way to have a part in keeping small businesses operating in your town. You’ll be glad you did.

It’s the annual consumer shopping referendum that drives our economy. How consumers decide to spend their money determines which retail businesses will have a good year or a bad year. And voting with one’s wallet will also determine which businesses may have to shut their doors for good.

When consumers take out their credit cards, they are voting. And when Maine consumers “vote” this year, local businesses deserve their consideration.

There is a growing “buy local” movement in Maine, and for good reason. Money spent in locally owned businesses sticks around longer than money spent in national chains. Successful local owners often pay their employees more than chain stores pay their workers, and they are more likely to participate in local charities. They buy houses, send kids to school and generally give back locally.

But this is not just a question of the multiplier effect of local spending. Locally owned businesses also play a role in the character of a community, and helping them succeed is a way that residents can make their communities better.

ECONOMIC ENGINES

Small, locally owned companies, especially when they provide a unique product or service, attract economic activity to towns – especially downtowns. Tourists don’t stop to shop in the same stores selling the same stuff they have back home in the way they will seek out a one-of-a-kind store or restaurant offering something they can’t find anywhere else.

And success spreads. A few locally owned shops and restaurants can create opportunity for other businesses to start up. A big-box store discourages competition in a wide variety of services.

small business artistsBut a successful small furniture shop can spark the creation of a small toy store, a clothing store or bakery nearby in an effort to capture some of the foot traffic. It’s not long before you also might see a lawyer’s office or software design startup in unused upper floors.

This kind of growth is very important to a state like Maine that depends on its small-business economy. Many of us here work at or own small businesses, but few, if any, of those businesses are going to expand and become the next L.L. Bean. New jobs come from new businesses, so encouraging and rewarding entrepreneurship is something that should be high on everyone’s list when they decide where to shop.

Like any good idea, “buy local” can be taken to a ridiculous extreme. Few people would want to weave their own cloth from local flax or source all their food from the neighborhood. There are things that large businesses can do more efficiently and at a lower cost. The day when a small hardware store could get by selling the same products that you could get at the mall at a lower price is gone.

BIG BOX ALlURE

Shoppers like the big-box merchants. They know they are probably going to find what they want at a good price before they pull into the parking lot, and most of them are not going to abandon that convenience for small shops with less variety and higher prices – especially if it means they have to find a parking spot in town. The big stores might send more money out of state than local merchants on a dollar-by-dollar basis, but they do so much volume that they are also big employers and taxpayers in a community.

This movement is less about local businesses competing with national ones as it is about supporting local businesses that do what the big stores can’t, by providing better service, unique products or higher quality.

We are in the middle of a huge transition in the way products are bought and sold, and the changes are likely to be more disruptive for the big stores than the local ones.

The number of consumers who use mobile devices to help them when they shop is exploding. They can compare prices before they go to a store or even while they are in the store and can buy online at the best price. Small business can use the Internet to sell some of their inventory to a national base of customers, pushing their products on social media for a fraction of what national advertising used to cost.

The world of retail is changing, and today’s consumers have the power to vote for the kind of future they want to see. Shopping local is more than just a way to be nice to local merchants – it’s also a way to keep your community secure in an age of disruption.

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