With the holidays fast approaching, now is a perfect time for us to talk a little bit about how important it is to shop at local independent businesses.
We are the owners of Tall Tales Books, a small bookshop specializing in quality books for children and young adults in Victoria BC. Since we opened our store in August 2009 we have learned firsthand how important it is for a small independent business to receive support from the community. The surprising thing is that a little support goes a very long way.
First, in our opinion supporting your local small businesses does not mean that you have to completely change your lifestyle and shopping habits and only shop at independent businesses. While that would be the ideal situation for communities everywhere, it is not the feasible thing in this day and age. The big-box chain stores and online retailers have their place, whether it's cost or convenience. Money is tight for lots of people, especially families, so you have to save where you can. Our family shops at Walmart and Costco every couple of months because we have a limited budget and we would never fault anyone else for doing that in their own lives either. The point that we really want to make is that it doesn’t take much to support a local independent business, so there is room for shopping at both the big guys and the little guys.
In our case, a dozen books more sold per day makes a big difference in our cash flow. We crunched the numbers for our region and if just 5% of households in the area spent $30 a year on average at our store, we’d be doing okay. $40 and we’d be successful. Those are ridiculously small numbers and Victoria is not a huge metropolis either! Now, this example is specific to us and we might be a unique case as our operation is ultra small (just the two of us running the shop by ourselves), but if you look at the numbers, even if we needed 10 times this amount it still isn't asking much. My challenge to you is to make some of your regular purchases at local independent businesses. Go to a local coffee shop a couple of times a month instead of Starbucks. Purchase an outfit once or twice a year from a local boutique instead of a large chain store. Visit a local bookstore every couple of months to get your child a new book rather than buy one at Costco (although we're probably biased on this one). For a great example of this in action, check out the "One Book Pledge" campaign from Bookshop Santa Cruz. While it doesn't seem like you would be doing much, believe us, it makes the world of difference to a small business.
The other huge obstacle facing most small businesses is the cost of marketing. We just don't have the financial resources to mount huge advertising campaigns like the big corporations. Therefore, word-of-mouth referrals are absolutely critical for small businesses. Telling your friends and family about your favourite business and encouraging them to take action and support the business is incredibly helpful. In our case, we often encounter people who say things like "I love your store, but I don't have any children to buy for." We always tell those people that spreading the word about our store is just as important to our success, and possibly more important, than making a purchase. If every customer who came through here on a daily basis told one friend who also then came in, our business would be growing at a steady rate.
By showing this small amount of support, not only would you be ensuring the success of a local business, but you would also be making a difference in the community at large as well. Don't forget, in most cases a large percentage of the money spent at local small business stays in the community instead of lining the wallets of shareholders, investors, or board of directors in another city (or country). It's also a domino effect. If more money was spent in our family's store, we would have more disposable income to spend at another local family-run store, and so on. In addition, don't forget how many people are employed by local small business: according to Statistics Canada, 48.3% of Canada's total workforce is employed by small businesses (for more astounding facts and figures, take a look at the CBC news article "10 Surprising Stats about small business in Canada").
Take a moment and think of your favourite retail stores, services, and restaurants in your community. Are any of them local independent businesses? Would you be sad to see them go? Remember, they don't exist in a vacuum. They rely on support from the community to stay in business. Make sure that you show your support to them as much as you can by spending your money there and spreading the word to your friends and family. You'd be surprised at how much difference it can make.
Now go visit your favourite local business...