The Freestyle Entrepreneur
This one’s liable to get me in big trouble with some folks, especially my local business owners. But here goes.
I’m seeing major problems with the long-term viability of “buy local” programs. Okay, the idea makes sense, but ONLY if the local businesses play ball. Too often, they don’t.
In recent weeks, I’ve heard about half a dozen complaints from people in my town and others in the state that they tried to work with local businesses, but the businesses they talked to had high prices and/or lousy service. The complaint was summarized by one person like this: “I’m willing to buy local whenever I can, but ********** seemed oblivious to the fact that I was trying to buy locally. Instead, they tried to take advantage of me.”
At the same time, I’ve heard business owners complain long and loud that the locals had no customer loyalty, but would go to the big-box stores just to save a few pennies.
Sorry, but these days a few pennies are well worth the drive. Most of all, I’ve been in business a long time, and I’ve always believed it was the businesses’ responsibility to motivate customers to buy from them. Period. Give them a reason and they will. Try to make them feel guilty … and they’ll leave in droves. Those that are doing a lot right do not need a “buy local” campaign.
I’ve always been a fan of buy local, but here’s the big problem: There is a reason customers go elsewhere for a purchase. Buying local is fine, as long as the local merchants work to make themselves more competitive and not just sit back and see “buy local” as a windfall for them.
For me, it goes back to the “Buy American” campaigns from the 1970s. While America was making the worst cars around back then, they had to do more than just push me to buy their products. I’d have loved to buy American, but the products were awful. So, I bought Japanese. (Today, by the way, I look for reasons to buy Ford, not just because they’re American, but because they are now creating a quality vehicle.)
Recommendation when it comes to “buy local” campaigns:
- Educate businesses that they need to do their part and make themselves as competitive as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean lower costs, but perhaps quality, home-town service.
- Recognize that no customer should feel obligated to buy locally. That kind of thinking is all turned around. Instead, the businesses need to give them a reason to do so.
- Do not make “buy local” an ongoing, year-round campaign. Instead, designate a week or so every year to a whoop-dee-doo “buy local” campaign. Get businesses to sign on, commit to wow their customers, and participate, giving them a chance to demonstrate why customers should buy from them.
Bottom line: Work hard. Make money. Have fun. And, remember, no customers owe you anything! Get out there and give them a good reason to buy from you … and to keep coming back for more.
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