‘Go Local’ shift takes time: speaker
Getting a “Go Local” program going here will help keep more dollars in the local economy, but also will require changes to the habits of consumers and retailers that won’t happen overnight.
That was the message relayed by Jessie Radies, founder of Live Local Alberta, who spoke at the grand-opening of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce’s new office here last Thursday.
“Big picture, you really want to encourage people to spend their money at home, make their dollars work harder in their community,” she stressed.
“Because when you spend money at a local business, there are multiple benefits to the community when that happens,” Radies added.
“There’s local ownership in a community that enhances or multiplies the economic value of that transaction.”
One idea for the “Go Local” program here is to introduce a customer loyalty rewards card program, kind of like “Air Miles,” which consumers would use whenever they make a purchase at a local merchant, which Radies said is “a tool to incent people to spend their money in their community.”
But there is more to a “Go Local” program than that.
“Whether it’s doing a brochure or a listing of businesses to make it easy for people to find them, doing advertising or messaging around how our local businesses contribute to our community, or whether it’s creating tools to make it easier for people or to incent them to spend their money locally, there’s a bunch of different tactics you can use in a community to help make that transition happen,” Radies explained.
In Edmonton, for instance, tactics have ranged from signage for grocery stores to put on their shelves to highlight local products to a “Shop Local First” month every November to encourage people to start their Christmas shopping with local retailers.
“A lot of the tools rely on the size and needs of your community,” Radies conceded. “But the other factor is making sure you’re engaging the business owners and making them understand the impacts of the purchasing choices they’re making.
“So when they’re doing advertising or printing or accessing business services, you encourage them to do that within their community, as well.
“It needs to happen at every level,” Radies stressed. “It can’t just be, ‘Customer, you have to spend your money in a local business.’
“Local businesses need to localize as much of their local spending as possible,” she remarked. “Organizations need to do that, governments need to do that.”
Similarly, Radies urges consumers who have concerns about pricing or selection to have some frank conversations with their local business owners—because most of these owners are fairly receptive to input and feedback.
“We want your business,” she said. “So if we’re not carrying a line you would like, or we’re not carrying at the price point you’re looking for, we need to know that so we can make those kind of changes.”
Other advice for consumers includes:
•be thoughtful about how you’re spending your money and why you’re spending it that way;
•try committing to making 10-20 percent of your purchases from local businesses, and then build on that over time; and
•when you find a good deal or product locally, share that knowledge with others.
Radies said there is objective proof of the benefits of buying local. A study out of Austin, Tex. in 2001 was one of the first that measured the economic impact of community ownership.
The study was done on book stores and showed that if one spent $100 at a local independent book store, that $100 would generate another $58 worth of local economic activity.
If you took that same $100 and spent it a non-local book store (in this case, Borders), it only generated a subsequent $13 in local economic activity.
“How you spend your money has a broader impact on the economy of your community,” Radies noted. “It’s not necessarily only what you buy but where you buy it.”
Radies’ main career is as a restaurateur; she and her husband, Darcy, own The Blue Pear in Edmonton.
She worked for a decade in large multinational restaurant companies, but it wasn’t until she started working in her own restaurant that she truly realized the connection between the impact of dollars spent there and the additional economic value to her community.
Radies said the success of the programs in Edmonton she’s been involved in have varied from sector to sector.
For example, the oldest is the one for local independent restaurants, which has grown over time to include group health benefits for employees, a card for employees that gives them discounts at other local businesses, and tools to make it easier and more cost-effective for businesses to recruit new staff.
But Radies stressed no one should harbour illusions that the habits of consumers and businesses are going to change overnight, adding that in Edmonton, it took about four years for the culture shift to take place.
“It does take a long time,” she admitted. “You have to shift the way people think. But if you take time and let it build slowly over a long period of time, it’s more likely to stick.”
Radies noted if one tries to radically change consumer and retailer behaviour, it won’t stick. The shift will be deemed “too hard, too complicated, too expensive,” and the changes will be abandoned.
“It’s about asking people to understand when they do this, this happens,” she explained.
“If they want our local businesses to continue to support our local non-profits and our sports teams, and make donations for this and make donations for that, they can only do if that if they’re a vibrant, health part of our community.”
When asked about how she perceived the challenges of Fort Frances being a border town and the consequential out-shopping, Radies said it’s not too different from smaller rural communities in Alberta being within an hour’s drive of Edmonton.
“It’s really about helping the citizens in that community understand the impact of their shopping,” she reiterated. “Quite frankly, if you don’t patronize the hair salon in town and you always go to the city to get your hair done, the hair salon is not going to be here.
“And that just reduces how vibrant your community is,” she warned.
“I think helping people understand that the choices they make have a direct impact on the vibrancy and viability of their own community—whether it’s driving across the border to buy groceries or if you’re in a small town and driving to the city to get back-to-school clothing,” added Radies.
The “Go Local” project here is made possible by the Rainy River Future Development Corp. and the Town of Fort Frances, with grant support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. (NOHFC) and FedNor.