Saturday, July 25, 2009

The importance of buying local and supporting the local economy

I sometimes finding myself writing and talking about the topic of buying local following an incident or two that makes me wonder just how important it is for people to support their local merchants. Usually, it is just given lip service in a society that values the almighty dollar above all else, or so it seems.

My online music business, A Web of Fine Music ( is based in St. Catharines, in the heart of Niagara, and a lot of my clientele lives in the area. I always welcome business from wherever they may be; that is the wonderful thing about the World Wide Web - the entire world is one community, or so we are told. But I have always believed your local clientele is paramount, and you should do all you can to make them think of you rather than anyone else when they are thinking of buying your product or service.

I always try to practice what I preach, and buy locally whenever possible. Just this morning, for example, I was at or local farmer's market, as I am every Saturday morning, and I bought corn, strawberries, baklava, meat and granola - all grown or produced locally and sold by market vendors who have a vested interest in my satisfaction with their product. My good friend, food writer Lynn Ogryzlo, states buying locally puts money back into the local economy and helps more than just the merchant you bought the product from. I couldn't agree more.

Sure, I will buy something elsewhere if I happen to find what I am looking for while I am in that particular area; I don't deny that. But most often, I feel I should be supporting our local businesses on an ongoing business, as it helps the local economy, and besides, I build a relationship with that business that most often pays dividends in value-added benefits that come from being a valued customer. It is perfectly natural to show more interest in a regular customer who depends on you than someone who is just shopping around for the best price. If you can get that new customer, fine. But often you don't and you find yourself spending a great amount of time working on something that fails to generate a sale.

This time of year is the slowest for my business; it doesn't get busier again until the fall months and people spend more time indoors. So now, especially, I want to hold on to every customer I can and develop new relationships whenever I can. That is why this week, two customers irked me because in spite of saying up front they would rather buy locally, they decided to take their business elsewhere, outside the community. You either believe in buying locally or you don't. You can't just pretend; you have to act on it.

The one case I will relate here involves a customer who found a CD he wanted on Amazon and wondered if I had it. I didn't, but spent the time working on getting the CD for him after he stated up front he would rather buy locally rather than through a website outside the area. Fair enough; I want to make that sale and show him I am worthy of his business. But when the time came to actually make the sale and I could order the CD in for him, the response was he would be going to Toronto and would see if he could get it there. Why? My price was a little higher than the price quoted on Amazon.

Now, I don't charge for shipping on my orders and even provide free delivery to local residents, but this person would rather drive to Toronto and see if he can get the same CD there at a better price. What is the logic in that? I hope he was planning to go to Toronto anyway, as that is a lot of gas to waste to save a little money. But as they say, the customer is always right, so I wished him well and told him I would still be here the next time he needs something. Let's hope so.

I am finding it increasingly difficult to do business in a world where only the price matters. Service, in spite of what people say, is not that important anymore. I offer a specialized service that is not designed to compete with the Wal Marts of the world; rather, I fill a niche that needs filling. I hope over the balance of this year, more people feel the desire to take advantage of the niche I fill.

Buy local. It just makes sense. And your neighbours might just thank you for it!

July 25th, 2009.

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