Written by Michael Brown There are many catch-phrases of the day relative to “Buying Local”—stuff like “Reducing Environmental Impact” (because local purchases require less transportation; thus congestion, pollution, habitat loss, etc. are reduced); or “Investing in Your Community” (because local businesses are owned by locals, who are obviously more invested in the community’s future and well-being); or, “Creating More Local Ownership and Jobs” (because, well, that’s an obvious one—though it is an interesting and somewhat overlooked fact that, according to the Small Business Administration 2018 Report, “local” businesses are actually the largest collective employer in the United States. It would be a fair bet to state that if you approached virtually anyone on the street today and asked “Who is the largest employer in the U.S.?”, then you would most likely get “Wal-Mart” as a response. Right, and wrong. Wal-Mart employs, according to the latest statistics, 2.2 million people in the United States. If you followed that question with “How many people are employed by the private sector?”, most people would not hazard a guess. If you did get a response, it would most likely not be in the ballpark: 58.9 million people is the answer. A staggering 47.9% of our workforce. Amazing.) There is an often overlooked facet to buying local: according to various life coaches, though there are a ton of factors in your day that affect your well-being (such as your significant other, job, co-workers, money, kids, that evil cellular device that you spend too much time on, and so on)—there is nothing as important in your life as relationships. The health (or lack thereof) of your relationships defines virtually everything: if things are sailing smooth with all of the aforementioned things—in addition to many other things, of course--then life is good. An argument with your kids early in the morning can color your mood, thus affecting your entire day, and how you consequently interact with others. What does this have to do with Buying Local? Fair question. If you go to a big box or chain store, what do you suppose is the driving force behind every employees’ reason for being there? You guessed it: a paycheck. If you visit a locally-owned store, what is the driving force behind the owners’ reason for being there? Right again: money. Note the word choice, though. A “paycheck” is one thing; “money” is another. (It would be fair to digress here briefly to interject that the local store owner is there not just for the money, but because what he or she is working at is actually a passion, and the store is there because it’s just a source of joy that happens to bring money). Back to the point: generally speaking, someone who is working for a paycheck is not necessarily devoted to the job. Someone who is working for money is devoted. Though, in both cases it is likely indisputable that the source of income is their livelihood, there is an inherent difference in the quality of employee. With that in mind, who do you think is going to (a) be more helpful if assistance is needed; (b) be more knowledgeable about the product(s); (c) offer you a drink to make your browsing more enjoyable, if applicable; (d) strike up a conversation to learn more about you; (e) be more concerned about whether or not you actually purchase anything; (f) answer questions without giving the impression that you are bothering them; (g) know your name—and address you by that name if you happen to visit them more than once? The list could go on. It would not take a stretch of the imagination to consider this: despite the thousands, in some cases, of visits to the big box or chain store in your town, there is virtually no chance that a single employee in the store knows—or cares about knowing—your name. While those “big” stores have their positive attributes and conveniences, to be sure, the point is simply this: there is no chance of a relationship that may actually contribute to a customers’ well-being possible there. To wrap things up: there is a story of a man who walked into a locally-owned store right before Christmas last year, to be greeted warmly by the cashier, who stated “Oh, we were hoping you’d come in!!” The customer smiled and greeted her, and upon checking out and reaching for his wallet, the cashier (owner) presented him with a Christmas card and told him that “this one’s on us.” She wouldn’t let him pay. He disputed, but she insisted. He felt appreciated, and happy. There is no need to discuss how much rum you have to buy in a year to get a Christmas card; that’s not (exactly) the point. Think about relationships next time you’re mentally debating about whether or not to buy local.
Written by Michael Brown