Lately I’ve been thinking about the phrase “think globally, act locally” and how it is fitting to the local business community. In many ways the world has never been more connected - innovations, both online and in transportation, have made us global citizens - and global shoppers. And while overall, this interconnectivity is a great step forward, we should take a moment to remember the importance of supporting our local businesses and the benefits that support has to our community.
Local businesses employ our friends and neighbours. They sponsor our kids’ sports teams and donate prizes to our charity events. They pay taxes which allow governments to provide services such as healthcare and education. In short, they invest in the community when we invest in them. Every dollar spent locally circulates through other local businesses, creating about $7 in local economic activity.
The full economic picture isn’t quite so simple. We don’t live in isolation and our local economy benefits from a more fully-developed and diversified business community.
We also have many local businesses that are mostly or entirely outward-facing. That is to say, their customers may not even be in this country, but all of their economic impact is
local. They rely on other places to purchase their products and services, allowing these local companies to grow and create jobs, which means more people and more money to shop locally. So we have to understand that this openness is part of what drives our local economy and supports local business.
Supporting local doesn’t have a specific, defined meaning. Some people think that it exclusively refers to shopping at ‘mom and pop’ shops on the corner or buying your groceries only at our markets - and these are absolutely a great way to support local. To me, however, supporting locally is anything that brings (or keeps) money in our community, in our province, or even in the country. A good example is Princess Auto, which is a growing national chain with locations in every province that has recently opened a new store in Fredericton. While some may simply lump them into the ‘big box store’ category, let’s remember that they just hired 45 LOCAL people to open their store, and 70% of those hired are full-time positions. These employees are now able to support other businesses - some small businesses, some big chains and everything in between.
Box stores are also competition for smaller local retailers, to be sure. So are online options. So are other small retailers. Competition is inherent to the nature of business and it causes businesses to innovate, to provide better service, and to diversify. A healthy business community needs the ‘mom and pop’ shops and the ‘big box’ stores and everything in between. More money is being spent online and that’s not about to stop. We have to embrace that reality and acknowledge that local business can also take advantage, innovate and adapt to this trend. Indeed, many of our local businesses, particularly startups, depend on it.
A recent survey by the Business Development Bank of Canada found that about 75% of customers want and expect personalized service. That is a service that the traditional local business can provide far better than anyone else - it’s an opportunity to leverage a strength. And it’s one of the reasons that I’m so confident that small, local businesses will always be a major part of the business community. Individual businesses of all sizes do come and go however, and each time a business closes in our community it’s a sad day. We feel badly for the owner, employees and their customers. Fortunately, the nature of entrepreneurs is to bounce back, learn, improve and move on to the next thing.
The global and local business paradigm is constantly shifting and evolving; some shifts affect certain sectors more than others. As business people, it is our job to shift and evolve with consumers’ wants and needs and expectations. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t shop locally just because you feel like you should, you should shop locally because we have a wide variety of amazing local businesses that fit different needs and provide different services. And we do.
Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment. It’s vision is Community Prosperity Through Business.