DEER IN HEADLINES
By Gery L. Deer
We hear the phrase constantly – buy local. But regardless of how much encouragement comes from public service announcements, most people still buy what they need from large, corporate chain stores. From toilet paper to breakfast cereal, local markets have always had a difficult time competing with companies like Walmart, Target and Meijer.
Since the start of the recession, local chambers of commerce and other civic groups have tried to get people to switch from big box buying to shopping at the locally-owned retailer. As money belts tightened, those messages were falling on more deaf ears than ever before.
Money in a particular community is a bit like blood in a body, it has to circulate to do any good. Money moves around a region from business to consumer and back, over and over again. That’s how the economic system works. Buying from out-of-town based companies moves the money out of the area. Buying local keeps more (not all) of the money in the community.
Many argue that they simply can’t afford to shop locally because of significantly higher prices. Others complain that local companies lack the product selection or expertise of larger merchants. A family struggling to make ends meet and feed a couple of kids can’t pay $4 for a box of breakfast cereal at a local vendor, when Walmart has it for $2. For them, every dollar counts and the extra five minutes they drive is worth the time and gas if it means there is significant savings at the bottom of the sales receipt.
Prices are lower at chain stores because of mass buying and selling. For example, for every bottle of ketchup a small grocery store sells, companies like Walmart sell hundreds of thousands more. It’s a simple matter of volume. A small business lacks the massive reach and bulk buying power afforded to big companies and therefore has to pay more for products, passing that higher price along to customers at the cash register.
Some small shops lower prices on one aisle, like on every-day necessities such as bread, cereal, soap, and so on, while keeping prices higher on extravagancies to counter the difference. Many already offer a generic alternative to most products or a store brand, the quality of which is often superior to the national offerings.
In the end, it’s up to the consumer to pay attention and do a little homework to see what’s out there and comparison shop. Most large, chain stores will price match nowadays. But nothing is more infuriating than to see someone in Walmart trying for a price match with a coupon from a local store offering a cheaper alternative. Why not just shop at the local retailer and get the deal they’re offering while keeping the money in the community?
Of course, it could be easily argued that big-box stores should be welcomed rather than refuted since they employ more people and pay more taxes to small communities. Valid points of course, but what happens when corporate decides to move the store or shut it down? The collateral damage can be economically devastating.
It should be emphasized also that this problem is not limited to groceries and sundries. Service companies like law offices, insurance providers, carpet layers and even accountants struggle to retain clients, even after years of service. These kinds of businesses are based on trust, relationships and personal referrals, concepts that may have escaped the younger generations who opt, instead, for the online approach or more “progressive” options.
Buying local needs to be more than just a slogan offered up by politicians in tough economic times. Government can’t and won’t save the local economy. It requires a joint effort between consumers and businesses. Consumers need to tell local retailers what they want; Retailers, listen to customers and take action to keep them.
Buying local strengthens a community’s economy against downturn and protects jobs. So, take your next shopping trip to the local grocer and phone your nearest insurance agent for a competitive quote. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and WDTN-TV2, Living Dayton business contributor. More at http://www.gerydeer.com