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The Myth of Buying Local


This article arises from a lengthy conversation on FaceBook after a friend of mine posted a meme. You know, the one that says if we just spend $100 more at local businesses we could create more jobs, increase revenue in our local economies, etc?

Never mind that NO ONE has "$100 more" in their budget. And never mind the reality that not ONE PERSON who shares that meme actually lives by that principle. It is a neat idea for everyone else. But they really won't practice it themselves, they can't afford to any more than anyone else can!

But there are also a whole host of issues here, and they apply to both Local and American claims upon our spendable dollars.

This attempt to place the blame in entirely the wrong quarter deserves refutation.

No one has a responsibility to "Buy Local", or "Buy American". And doing so does NOT help the fundamental problems that cause local or American businesses to struggle in the first place.

I'm going to be obnoxious on this issue, and I'm sorry for that, but I see things from a point of view that takes the whole equation into account, not just a single passing perception. I see it from INSIDE the businesses - on both sides.

I am a business startup consultant, and a business troubleshooting consultant. These issues are faced by every single business I have ever worked with, including my own (and I am a bit of a serial entrepreneur, so that has been a lot of businesses).

The whole "buy local" or "buy American" (as though it is YOUR responsibility as the customer to solve the problem, and you are to blame for it in the first place) is just a red herring to distract you from the real issue - the real issue is the role of competition in the marketplace, and whose responsibility it is to address it. If YOU have a business, then understanding this is one of the keys to succeeding in the face of great opposition.

CUSTOMERS do NOT have ANY "responsibility" to shop with small businesses, or American businesses. The customer is the King here, the business owners are NOT. The Customer is the focus of the satisfaction objective, NOT the bad guy here! If Customers as a whole are not PLEASED, it is NOT the customer's fault!

Small stores and American businesses have a responsibility to attract customers if they want to stay in business. It is THEIR responsibility, and no one else's, to make their business successful! Their pathetic attempts to put the responsibility on YOU is both shameful, and negligent!

"Buy from us because we are American." is just NOT an effective business strategy! It is a weak attempt to dodge accountability for questionable product or gross overpricing!

"Buy from us because our product is the best."  Now THAT works... as long as the product really IS the best!

If we have to "shop local", or "buy American" as though it is a charitable act, then we've got the wrong idea about business! Well run businesses don't need charity! They EARN their customers!

It is not my responsibility to "remember" local businesses, and it is not my responsibility to "spend more" at "local businesses".

It is THEIR job to remind me, and to MAKE THEMSELVES ESSENTIAL to me.

I am the CUSTOMER. I am in NO WAY responsible for the success or failure of the business!

I shop at small stores, or US businesses that meet my needs. I can't exactly buy what I don't need just to keep someone in business who isn't savvy enough to carry what I need, I can't afford that. And I am NOT going to reward a business for mediocrity. They have to EARN my dollars.

Every small business out there has the potential to compete VERY WELL with Wal-Mart, and with stores online. This is part of what I teach a small business when working with them.

They have to compete by providing what the big stores CANNOT provide, and by providing what an online store cannot provide. And price is only part of the equation -  a valid part, but a part. Because I am NOT going to spend "an extra $100" just on increased prices. Can't do it, and neither can you! Value matters.

I buy foreign car brands. I love Nissan, Toyota, and I can even deal with Kia. I CANNOT deal with Chevy. AT. ALL. I can endure a Dodge, but only under duress. And I can tolerate a Ford... A truck or large van. Because I can't get the equivalent of those in a Toyota or Nissan. I used to say I'd never own a Chevy even if it were given to me. And then we were in need (LONG story) and someone actually did. They gave us a Chevy. It lived up to my expectations, gloriously - but then, my expectations were pretty low and pathetic!

I like the cars I like because they SAVE ME MONEY, and they keep me on the road reliably, even on the second hundred thousand miles. The problems with Chevy are so numerous and complicated I can't even begin to outline them briefly. They are on the bottom end of the scale for quality, and on the high end for price.

NO WAY will I "Buy American" and be bullied into a poor decision for my family, based on false criteria, when there are cars out there that actually run well and which are worth the price I'd pay for them. Once upon a time American Auto meant Quality. But it does not anymore. So unless that changes I'll buy Japanese, because they DO represent Quality.

The whole "local business" thing is a myth anyway. If the store is THERE, it is "local". Wal-Mart provides jobs LOCALLY. Decent ones - they provide better jobs than the small local businesses in most places, and they provide some benefits, small local businesses never do.

A lot of existing businesses DO go out of business when Wal-Mart comes into a town. They do when Target comes in, or Costco.

But it is important to understand, the businesses that go under when competitors come in were NOT healthy businesses to start with, and a lot of them were also chain businesses. They are those businesses that are only making money because they are the only thing there, and there isn't healthy competition in the marketplace.

A business does not deserve to stay in business just because they exist. They have to EARN the right to thrive, and sometimes even to just keep their doors open. It isn't an entitlement. It is a privilege they have to work hard to deserve.

One of the stores in a town we used to live in was paranoid about Wal-Mart coming in, and they held a lot of influence with the city council. This store was perpetually disorganized, their cashiers were rude, and they were often out of stock on things they should have re-ordered but did not bother. They considered that this was perfectly acceptable, because, well, you know, that's just how this town is! They DESERVED to go out of business, or to be required to clean up their act. And if they cleaned up their act, they'd stay in business, Wal-Mart or not.

Competition in the market place is a GOOD thing. It helps provide better jobs, it provides better value and better selection for the customer base, and keeps the businesses sharp and lean.

It doesn't matter whether the store is corporate owned, franchised, or completely locally owned, they ALL provide jobs, they ALL provide value and benefit to the local economy, they all pay taxes into the local and state governments.

The smart mom and pop stores get their act together when they face that competition, and they don't stand around whining about it, they find their specialization in something that a big store CAN'T do - because there are TONS of things that big stores can't do that customers WANT.  They have to EARN every customer that walks in the door and makes a purchase. That's just the reality of business.

There are also things those small businesses CAN'T do, that big stores CAN do. And that is why we shop there, if we do. And that is why YOU shop there, if you do. You don't shop there because someone guilt tripped you into it with a FaceBook Meme.

People buy your product because they love your product, not because someone said you are a business owner who needs to make a sale. The fact that there are other businesses out there selling the same thing, or that every big box store sells a standardized version of what you sell, doesn't stop you from carving your own niche and reaching customers who will purchase from you, because yours is BETTER (make sure it is better, ok!).

You just have to learn to work the market to move your product in spite of competition, and if you learn to do that well, you end up not resenting the competition anymore, because THEY are not the ones who determine your success, AT ALL. They don't hold that power, YOU do.

  • All along, Chevy had the power to stop the implosion of their company.
  • All along THEY had the power to avoid unethical government bail-outs.
  • All along THEY are the ones that had the power to make a product that didn't have to be recalled every time they made a major change.
  • All along THEY had the power to ATTRACT sufficient customers based on QUALITY, instead of trying to fob them off on superficial bells and whistles glued onto a questionable engine, transmission and drive train that are so cluttered with electronic redundancies and dependency loops that it is impossible to troubleshoot the thing quickly.
  • All along, CHEVY had the power... no one else did... To solve their own problems simply by focusing on reliability instead of cheap shiny.

And all along the customer had the power to simply NOT BUY shoddy workmanship. "Buy American" didn't help Chevy ONE BIT. It just prolonged the agony of the customer.

  • So buy Quality.
  • Buy Convenience.
  • Buy Service that is PERSONAL.
  • Buy the BEST brand.
  • Buy the GOOD stuff.

Forget about "local", and forget about "American". When Local and American are the best, you'll buy them BECAUSE they are the best. They don't DESERVE to have you buy if they aren't the BEST, and if you DO buy when they are not the best, you'll only get in the way of their realization that they are doing a sub-standard job.

Market diversification is a good thing.

There are BETTER ways to support "local" or "American" businesses than making token purchases just because of a meaningless title.

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