Has the Time Finally Come for Buy Local Campaigns to Succeed?
Like the perfect storm, several elements have to come together to take an event or movement from good to great. If anyone has read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, you understand how an idea or concept can all of a sudden take a life of its own. Like the perfect storm or the tipping point, I'm starting to think that all the elements are in place to finally make "Buy Local" campaigns really work.
"Buy Local" campaigns have been around for years. Chambers of commerce produce printed niceties about how good it is for the community to buy from local businesses, a handful of stores post simply-made signs that lackadaisically state "Buy Local," maybe the local newspaper runs an article. But after a few weeks of half-hearted effort, shoppers go back to their normal patterns and storekeepers let the signs and flyers fade in the sun and curl at the edges. So why could it be different now?
For one, the economy is helping in this regard (yeah, there really is some good to this recession). As the pocketbook crunch hits home, consumers are feeling more patriotism; a sense of "we can do it!" and "let's help build back America" is running deeper in our veins. People want to put Americans back to work, and that often means supporting the smaller businesses.
Two, community and industry leaders are getting more creative (another by-product of the failing economy; when the money stops rolling in, you start thinking of innovative ways to get the cash moving again). Several communities are printing their own currency as a way to keep the money flowing in their town. The idea, first developed during the Depression, works like this: businesses form a network and print stylized town currency that is only available at the businesses in that network. The currency is sold at a discount, say 95 cents for a $1 note. The Berkshires region in western Massachusetts has been circulating BerkShares (www.berkshares.org) since 2006 and estimates that more than $2.3 million worth of BerkShares have been circulated. More than 350 local businesses participate. In Detroit, more than 20 businesses accept Detroit Cheers (www.detroitscrip.org), and in Ithaca, New York, Ithaca Hours (www.ithacahours.org) are circulated around the community. Local currency is not the only way communities are getting involved. In Geneva, Illinois, downtown merchants marched in the annual Swedish Days Parade dressed to reflect their individual business and held signs noting how long their business has been operating in town. Seeing the large, friendly group reinforced how many unique local businesses Geneva has.
Three, "Buy Local" campaigns are becoming sophisticated and upscale. The 3/50 Project, created and fiercely promoted by former retailer and industry expert Cinda Baxter, is polished and well-thought-out. The idea encourages consumers to think of three businesses in their area that they wouldn't want to see go under, and then to commit to spending $50 a month between these businesses. Baxter has promoted the 3/50 Project through a sleek website (www.the350project.net), Facebook, Twitter, speaking engagements and more. The project has several large organizations on board as well, including the Chicago Market Living and Giving show. A professional logo, well-designed flyers, window clings, web panels, graphics and other resources are free to participating businesses. New ideas are constantly being developed on how to build upon the idea, and the movement has been recognized across the country and even abroad. Another professionally produced concept is the Main Street Organization (www.mainstreet.org). The movement is a community-driven strategy to help communities revitalize their downtowns. The organization has a network of state, regional and local programs that communities can tap into to help turn around their business districts.
All these elements together—a renewed sense of patriotism, creative thinking, and campaigns that are polished and spread nationwide—might finally be the catalyst that gets shoppers buying local again.