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Shopping shift could have big impact on main street

Posted 11/01/16 (Tue)

Shopping shift could have big impact on main street

By Cecile Wehrman
The call for folks to “shop local” is as old as Crosby, but a new effort seeks to drive that message home to new and younger residents.
Go Local ND is the name of the latest program by Vision West ND, a consortium serving counties impacted by the oil industry. The program has set a goal of helping communities capture 10 percent of the purchases currently being made out of town.
Last week, Vision West brought expert Karalea Cox to Crosby for two sessions aimed at educating business people in affecting a culture change that doesn’t just accept people shopping at box stores in bigger towns or ordering merchandise by mail.
Cox challenged participants to express what they love about their community and find ways to share that message since people who feel connected to their community tend to support it -- with more volunteer hours and more money spent locally.
“The communities whose residents feel the most attached       . . . are the most prosperous communities,” said Cox, according to two recent multi-state studies.
Studies of Crosby’s own residents show that while 40 percent of people do most of their shopping in town, 88 percent would like to, “so that other 40 percent is really capturable,” said Cox, but the business community needs to do a better job of making people feel connected -- and also, letting people know there’s a hidden cost to shopping away from home.
She asked business people present how much of their own shopping they give to their fellow business owners.
“Are you purchasing locally? If you’re not, can you shift 10 percent of what you buy back into the local economy?” she asked.
Participants acknowledged that everyone has a mindset of, “I’m going to Williston anyway, I’ll pick it up there.”
“And you will save some money,” Cox said. “But when you’ve shopped at Costco, what has it cost you? The loss of local business, that’s what it cost you. It really did.”
Cox also pointed out that when people save a few bucks on a purchase like toilet paper at a box store, they’re also supporting an economy in which employees are kept at part time hours to avoid paying benefits. It’s a system, Cox said, that destroys not only the community where those workers live, but the home community where a purchase could have been made from a neighbor.
“When you buy it here from a local business you are going to see 70 percent of that dollar circulate in the community,” Cox said, helping Crosby remain a vital and quality place to live.
Instead of local businesses thinking they are in competition with each other, she said, they’re really in competition with stores in bigger towns. Anytime local businesses can steer dollars toward one another, she said, they’re growing the pie, not losing a sale.
Cox encouraged business people to visit with their neighbors about products whose costs are too high and give them a chance to match the out-of-town price.
There’s no doubt, said Cox, that convenience is a big factor and the “get it now” mentality is tough to fight. When a customer doesn’t find what they are looking for in a local store, they are going to go home and order it themselves, online.
Instead of telling customers you can order something in for them, she suggested merchants say instead, “We can get it here as quick as Amazon can.”
Regardless of who does the ordering, she said, it will probably take two to three days to arrive. The difference is whether a local business is supported by the transaction.
On another front, Cox said business people may wonder why they’re sponsoring social events or activities that have nothing to do with getting people to spend money in stores. But it all adds up to people feeling connected enough to invest in the place where they live.
“When people feel connected, there’s a lot of pride,” she said, but also loyalty. “People are willing to give up salary for a great place to live.”
This is why quality of life, she said, is more and more important for small towns. Sharing a positive message, she said, can help convert transients and visitors, to long term residents.
“If it’s my first time here and I stop at the C-store and I say it’s beautiful here,” said Cox, and the cashier is not agreeable, “first and foremost, they are sending the message I am not welcome.”
As the program progresses, said Cox, it will be important for the business community to not only create awareness about the importance of shopping locally, but to let front line employees know how important are the impressions they leave with customers.
“They should be the biggest advocates for the community,” she said.