By Fran Johnson, Publisher, Harford’s Heart Magazine
Cinda Baxter, the marketing consultant from Minneapolis, MN responsible for The 3/50 Project, visited Harford County this week and addressed a group of business owners and economic development professionals on the importance of supporting local ‘bricks and mortar’ retail, restaurant and service businesses. The premise of The 3/50 Project is simple:
Think of the 3 independent local shops that you’d really miss if they were gone. What stores and businesses contribute to your ‘sense of place’? Which ones do you feel contribute to the character that attracts you to your community?
Then commit to spend $50 a month in those stores. Not $50 in each store, just $50 a month – money that maybe you’re already spending in big box stores for items that you could purchase from a locally-owned independent.
For every $1 spent in an independently owned business, 68¢ stays in the community through taxes, payroll and support services. By comparison, that same $1 spent in a national chain returns only 43¢ to the community and NOTHING is returned to the community for the $1 spent online.
Since its launch in March, 2009, The 3/50 Project has garnered a great deal of positive coverage in the national media, hailed by Fox News as “the formula that could save some local businesses that might not otherwise survive.” Harford’s Heart featured the Project in the Holiday 2009 issue (visit www.harfordsheart.com for the archived version.) At the recent meeting (sponsored by the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, Harford County Chamber of Commerce, Havre de Grace Main Street and the Economic Development offices of Harford County, Bel Air and Havre de Grace), Baxter was largely “preaching to the choir.” Independent business owners are well aware of the importance of support from local customers. The impact of local dollars remaining in the local community is clear.
What’s not so clear is how to reach those local customers, to create what Baxter calls “commuter consumerism.” She had a number of suggestions for marketing The 3/50 Project through social and traditional media, all of which included a concerted effort from business owners to boost awareness of the value of keeping it local. Keeping it Local doesn’t mean never shopping in a big box store, or boycotting national chains. Baxter emphasized the importance of balancing our purchases and of making a commitment to think of our local stores first.
The commitment may involve some effort, as does any commitment to a principle. After all, it’s very convenient to pull into the big box store, or Google online. Often, though, the local ‘mom and pop’ will have the same item, or be able to obtain it for you. Recently, we discovered that a local shop had a similar item to one that we’d purchased online for the same price. When the item we’d purchased online turned out to have been made in China, our commitment to Keeping it Local (and made in America!) made it a no-brainer to return the online item and buy from the local store. Even with the cost of return shipping, supporting a local shop and thereby the local economy affirmed the principle.
The extra effort to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’ might just make a difference to preserving our ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses, and with them the character and culture of the community. Keeping it Local is more than a slogan; as a way of life, it just makes sense.