By Alex Gladu, Independent We Stand team
As a passionate and dedicated local business owner, you work hard to stand out from the crowd of big boxes and national chains. You’ve joined a local business alliance, you’re active in the local chamber of commerce, and your storefront is emblazoned with “Buy Local First” and “Come In, We’re Local” stickers – all in order to distinguish your business as locally owned and to encourage consumers to support you because of it. But does it work?
Customer trends show that, yes, it does. Even in the age of 24-hour superstores and next-day delivery from online retailers, consumers largely do care about local businesses, and they increasingly understand the difference that local makes. The buy local movement has grown exponentially in recent years and consumer demand for local has grown right along with it. The number of buy local groups is at an all-time high, with more than 150 local alliances operating in communities across the country.
The growth of consumer demand for local is probably most evident in the food industry, where the demand for locally grown food has changed the way even the country’s largest food businesses, like grocery stores and chain restaurants, make buying decisions. For example, a new survey of 1,100 American grocery shoppers reveals that 70 percent of shoppers want to buy locally grown food – even if it costs more. Although many of these purchases are made in chain grocery stores, the increased interest in locally grown food is great news for local farmers and growers.
The surge in buy local interest suggests that consumers have learned what it means to buy local and appreciate the benefits. Surely, these consumers are being reached by local businesses in a much larger way thanks to the growth of buy local alliances, which now represent more than 40,000 small businesses. These groups promote the benefits that local businesses bring to communities, and consumers seem to be catching on. For instance, Deloitte’s 2013 Annual Holiday Survey revealed that 66 percent of consumers planned to shop local during the 2013 holiday season, with 60 percent of those respondents saying they want to shop local in order to support the local economy.
A survey from American Express shows even more promising consumer trends. According to an online survey of 1,000 adults, 93 percent of consumers believe it’s important to support local businesses, and 73 percent consciously shop at small businesses because they don’t want them to disappear. The survey also revealed that 89 percent of consumers believe that small businesses play an important role in the economic well being of local communities.
The consumer desire to buy local has grown so much that national chains have even had to respond. Not only are grocery stores turning to local farmers, but giant brands like Starbucks have also attempted to appear more local-friendly. In 2009, Starbucks opened 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea in Seattle, but the company did not openly affiliate the shop, which looked like a typical mom-and-pop coffee shop, with the Starbucks brand. This process, known as un-branding, is intended to attract local-loving customers to a giant chain, and its use has often been attributed to the consumer desire to support new initiatives, rather than the mass manufacturers that have dominated the market for decades.
As consumers consciously decide to buy local and national chains scramble to respond, there is no doubt that being locally owned does matter to your business. Consumers will support your business because they know what you can do for the community. So keep those “Buy Local First” stickers on the door, and be prepared to welcome today’s local-conscious customer to your business.
About the Author
Alex is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is double-majoring in Public Relations and Spanish. Since becoming a writer for Independent We Stand, she has fully adopted the ‘buy local’ lifestyle. Her favorite indie business is Sugarland, a bakery in Chapel Hill, N.C, where she has been known to go a little cupcake crazy. She hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in nonprofit or political communication. Google+