Shop local. Buy handmade. The rallying cries of the small business. You see these phrases as memes on social media, as stickers in the window of your favorite independent book store. But sometimes, you may question why you should spend a little more, and go out of your way, when the local big box store is just so convenient.
Today I’d like to argue that buying local and handmade not only benefit your community, but in the long run it will often save you time and money. Additionally, working with a small business or artist is usually just more enjoyable than dealing with a big corporation.
If you want to see your neighborhood and city thrive, shop local. Multiple studies have shown that when you support local small businesses, more of your money stays in your own community. The most commonly quoted numbers are that for every $100 spent at a local business, $68 stays in your local economy. On the other hand, if you spend $100 at a non-local business, only $43 dollars stay in your local economy. And that’s for businesses that have a store front in your community. How much more of your money is leaving your city if you’re purchasing from an on-line only company?
Check out Why Shop Local?
But the benefits of shopping local go beyond just the economic impact. Local vendors better understand local needs.
Have you ever had to buy a jacket in the Spring? Often it’s still a little cold here in the Pacific Northwest as late as May, especially at night. Maybe something happened to your favorite jacket and you suddenly need a new one, or a visiting friend didn’t pack one and is freezing. So you head down to the local big box store to pick up a cheap jacket, only to find out that the clothing department is a sea of swim suits and short-shorts, because as far as the retail world is concerned, it’s summer and everyone is having fun in the sun.
Of course if you pop into a local clothing store, they probably have hoodies and scarves displayed year-round. They know that sometimes you need a little extra layer at night, especially if it rains, even in the middle of summer.
If you want to take it a step further, don’t just support a local business, support a local artist. Handmade goods are made with love, and they’re made to last. When I spend hours cutting out and sewing a garment, I don’t want it to be worn-out and unfashionable in three months. I want it to be something you’ll treasure for years.
An artist or craftsperson’s reputation is entwined with their work. As such, we strive to design things that look good, work well, and stand the test of time. We pay close attention to materials and construction, to make sure that they are up to our standards of quality.
This dedication to quality shows in the longevity of handmade goods. To use my own work as an example, I have customers who are still wearing pants they bought from me seven years ago. And even with daily wear, a pair of my cinch pants lasts for an average of about three years.
One thing that local business owners and artists have in common is that we’re tuned in to what our customers really want. A large business takes a macro view of things — they analyze trends, look at sales numbers from stores, maybe do some focus groups.
I talk to my customers.
I listen when you say “I love these pants, I just wish they came in green” or “This is my favorite skirt for the summer, have you considered making a heavier one for winter?”
Of course I can’t fulfill every customer request, but I can pay attention to themes. If I’m hearing the same ideas over and over again, I know they’re worth exploring. And if I’m hearing the same complaints, I also know that it may be time to retire or redesign a product.
Artists and craftspeople pay attention to how our products are integrated into your life, and we plan accordingly. We make yoga pants that aren’t see-through, shirts that don’t disintegrate after three washes, skirts that can go from work to happy hour.
The Human Connection
What local businesses and artists have in common is that you develop a real, human connection with them. Even if your favorite local boutique has several employees, you probably still run into the owner from time to time. Even if you buy from your favorite artists on Etsy instead of face-to-face at a craft show, they’re still the one answering your messages and hand-writing a note to go along with your purchase.
By contrast, big business often feels faceless and soulless. Even if you have a great conversation with your cashier at the big box, there’s no guarantee you’ll see them next week. Big business is driven by profit and share holders, not by meeting the needs of customers and communities.
As corporations grow bigger and bigger in an endless series of mergers, that human connection gets harder to find. But it’s right there if you look for it, in your own community. Take the time to find that local business or independent artist who really speaks to your style and ideals. I promise it’s worth it.