By Bill R. Shelton, CEcD
With the dual goals of stopping retail leakage and promoting local businesses, community economic development agencies or chambers of commerce often initiate shop-local campaigns. The intent of such campaigns is to either make local citizens aware of the impact of lost retail sales on the local economy or to make them feel guilty for shopping out of town.
Before designing and funding a shop local campaign, it could beneficial to consider why many of these efforts fail to produce meaningful results. The basis for many of these efforts is in fact a public relations program with “buy local” slogans and ads. While a PR program can gain immediate attention and focus, it does not address long-term issues such as, “Why are citizens leaving the community to shop?”
Citizens prefer to shop and dine locally. Surveys and focus groups have validated the desires of locals to shop and dine locally when they have selection, quality and price options. Two questions should be addressed. The first is, “Why do a majority of PR campaigns fail to create sustainable benefits for local businesses and fade quickly?”
The second question should be, “Does the campaign, as structured, increase local shoppers’ selection, quality and price options to buy locally?”
The reality for civic leaders to recognize is that they are currently deficient in serving the needs and desires of citizens and that the first goal should be a long-range approach to growing and diversifying their retail base by increasing selection, quality and price options.
But providing retail options will not be the sole long-range goal of a successful shop-local campaign. Buying habits and preferences are developed over years and are engrained in shoppers. The differences between success and failure will be the shifting of the local shoppers’ culture and spending habits. When executed properly, the campaign will not only inform the public of the benefits of doing business locally but it can also build a lasting culture of support for local businesses that will help them thrive.
Shop locally campaigns can and should be more than a Band-Aid program with catchy slogans. Successful campaigns result in healthier local businesses, which are major engines of job creation and provide citizens with increased retail options.