Whether they’re shopping at local retailers on Small Business Saturday or feasting on locally sourced pork chops at independent restaurants, American consumers’ interest in supporting local, independent businesses is on the rise. In a 2012 survey by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 75 percent of business owners surveyed believed public awareness of the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses increased in 2011.
In communities with active shop-local movements, independent businesses saw revenues rise by 7.2 percent in 2011, compared to only 2.6 for independent businesses in areas without a shop-local campaign, according to the ILSR, which counts some 150 shop-local campaigns nationwide operated by independent business alliances.
If your area doesn’t have a shop-local movement, how can you start one? It takes a village, says Jeff Milchen, co-founder of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), a nonprofit organization that helps communities launch independent business alliances and buy-local campaigns. “No one person or organization can start a movement,” says Milchen. “A movement by definition occurs when many people and groups independently begin working toward a common goal.”
Do your homework
The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), an alliance of North American entrepreneurs and business networks working to grow local economies, recommends you start by determining whether you should create a new organization or instead find an existing group in the area that could do the job.
To find nearby shop-local organizations, talk to other business owners or search for BALLE member organizations and AMIBA affiliates near you. If you do need to start a new organization, assess whether there’s potential to develop a strong steering committee made up of local business and government leaders.
While Milchen recommends talking to local elected officials and civic organizations to gain their ideas and perspectives, he cautions that obtaining the support of key business leaders is by far the most crucial step. “While many successful alliances have been launched with government support and funding, [shop-local] campaigns run by governments do not have a strong record of success.”
BALLE recommends you make a list of respected business owners in your community who have a positive attitude and a passionate belief in the value of local businesses. Meet with them one-on-one until you have a small core group of leaders (ideally fewer than 10 people) committed to your shop-local movement.
Make a plan
With your core team in place, develop a plan for your shop-local organization. Decide on its geographic scope, membership criteria and dues (as little as $20 or $30 per year per business is enough to get started, according to BALLE). Create action teams and a steering committee, as well as a mission statement, vision and plan for your first year. BALLE recommends focusing on goals that are easily attainable — “low-hanging fruit,” so to speak. Reaching these goals will create momentum and build support in the community.
Create marketing materials
With your plan in place, determine membership benefits, choose a name for your organization and develop the marketing collateral you’ll use to promote it. The ILSR recommends developing a logo, slogan, brochure and website, as well as a “campaign kit” — the packet that local businesses receive when they join. This might include a welcome letter; a window cling, decal or poster with your organization’s logo and slogan; suggestions for promoting the shop-local campaign; and information businesses can give customers, such as a “10 Reasons to Support Independent Businesses” flier.
Kick it off
Once your organizational structure, plan and marketing materials are ready (which typically takes six months to a year), hold a kickoff event to solicit members and inform the community about your shop-local movement. The type of event can vary depending on your goals: You might want to focus the event on local business owners by holding a luncheon at a local restaurant, or expand it to the wider community by holding a press conference. Alert local reporters and send out press releases before and after your event.
Keep it going
Once your shop-local campaign is under way, grow it by enlisting social media, word of mouth, and the research, data and marketing tools available from the resources below. Consider joining a larger organization such as AMIBA or BALLE. AMIBA’s Milchen says, “We can save people huge amounts of time and money by enabling them to adapt business plans, campaign ideas, graphics templates and much more, while providing personal guidance to avoid common mistakes.”
- AMIBA resources include trainings and presentations for your organization; posters, stickers, buttons and other marketing materials; and educational materials. The 12-page guide “Building ‘Buy Local’ Campaigns That Shift Culture and Spending” is free when you buy any educational items.
- BALLE offers such resources as online webinars, articles and a manual on how to start a local shopping campaign. Members can join affinity groups to make it easier to start their own “Local First” campaign.
- The ILSR offers resources including reports and research, fact sheets, books and videos to help small-business owners start and run shop-local campaigns and fight back against big-box retailers.
Not quite ready to start your own shop-local campaign just yet? No worries — there are plenty of other ways to tap into America’s surging shop-local spirit. Check out:
- Independents Week: Held in July, this AMIBA-sponsored week highlights local merchants around the 4th of July.
- Small Business Saturday: Sponsored by American Express, this event — held on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday each year — is dedicated to promoting local independent businesses.