In theory, the Buy Local campaign was meant to offer to shoppers the notion that there is something more high-minded in patronizing a local shop than can be found in the convenience of one-stop-gets-all in a big box store, or buying what you need while still in your pajamas. There is community involvement when shopping at an independent local retailer, and there is personalized customer service, and there is familiarity, and a sense of giving back, and/or just trying to be a good neighbor.
In practice, Buy Local pushed shoppers to small Main Street retailers in droves, no matter what the motivation. According to Advocates for Local Business, the results of a study released February 6 show that Buy Local campaigns worked far better than instigators had hoped, driving locals into independent shops at a brisk rate.
The survey of 2,602 independent business owners by Advocates for Local Business and the Institute for Self-Reliance showed that 2013 sales increased by 7 percent from 2012 in markets with Buy Local campaigns, while the increase was only 2.3 percent in areas where no such campaign took place. Data also showed that 75 percent of businesses in “Local First” areas reported increased foot traffic and other business improvements stemming from the campaign.
Additionally, the business owners in the campaign markets who participated in the survey reported an average revenue increase of 5.3 percent last year, and a 1.4 percent gain in same-store holiday sales.
Jeff Milchen, co-chair of the American Business Alliance, said in a prepared statement the survey results confirmed what many small business owners already knew. “This data confirms what we experience assisting communities with ‘buy local and independent’ campaigns — they are raising consciousness and driving more business to local independents. The data is inspiring and suggests the future will be bright for America’s entrepreneurs once we change policies that handicap independent businesses.”
Thoughts on policy along Main Street also played a role in the survey. Most small retailers told the survey interviewers that, rather than big box chains, large Internet retailers posed the biggest threat to their business success. More than 75 percent of independent retailer respondents said that online retailers’ advantage of sales-tax free transactions was the biggest threat to the local businessman, and 41 percent said the advantage had a “significant” impact on their sales. Local independents called for a leveling of the playing field in the survey, asking that lawmakers impose sales taxes on Internet-only stores.
Business owners surveyed also favored policies that would end tax subsidies for large corporate retailers, and regulate credit card swipe fees.
“[The survey] highlights … the challenges that these businesses are facing regarding equitable governmental policy and a level competitive playing field,” said American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher, who is also the co-chair of Advocates for Independent Business. “However, the widespread acceptance of the localism movement — which shows the potential of small business advocacy — is a clear sign for optimism.”
Mitchell, Stacy. “Independent Business Owners Report Growing Public Support, Call for Policies to Level the Playing Field;” Advocates for Independent Business. February 6, 2014.