Wednesday, May 12, 2010
I hate going to superstores. I rarely see the same staff, and the employees never seem too interested in being there. Maybe that's a symptom of supersizing. How can an employee in customer service be there for so many people under one roof?
I don't feel connected to the community at these megastores. Even their home décor section seems stocked with cautiously cute products that don't stand out and look like they are destined to fall apart in six months, necessitating another trip to the megastore to buy the same product. The stores all have that mass-produced look about them in spite of marketing attempts to make them seem hip and unique. I never seem to find exactly what I'm looking for, unless it's a coffee pot or a cleaning product. And good luck finding assistance—unless you stumble upon that rare, eager and shiny-faced "associate" who hasn't had the opportunity to become jaded. Actual help is non-existent.
Call me a snob, an elitist or xenophobic. Whatever. I like things that stand out. I like buying a bedspread that I know will last more than one season. I like being treated as if I am more than the account number on my debit card. I like seeing the same people in stores. And I like walking around in a building that isn't so huge I have to worry about getting lost in it.
I like dealing with employees who seem content and who want customers to have a good experience. I like dealing with people who don't look like they are about to collapse from exhaustion if they take one more step or have to ring up one more sale. I really like knowing the money I spend in a store is staying in my community and promoting an entrepreneur instead of some corporate headquarters in who-knows-where, Ark.
I think locally owned businesses build stronger communities. The Institute for Local Self Reliance (a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting strong local economies) published a study in 2003 that makes a strong case for supporting local businesses. Based in Maine, the study looked at eight locally owned businesses in Rockland, Camden and Belfast that voluntarily shared financial information on revenues and expenditures for 2002. The study found that these businesses spent 44.6 percent of their revenue within the surrounding two counties of Knox and Waldo. They spent an additional 8.7 percent in the state of Maine. All eight businesses used locally owned banks and purchased inventory from local manufacturers. They advertised in local publications and hired other services locally.
In other words, more than half the revenue these locally owned businesses generated stayed in their communities and in their state.
Contrast this with the expenditure profile from a large multi-national retailer with outlets in the state of Maine. The institute built a profile based on published information and statements from company officials due to the fact that national retailers do not typically reveal detailed financial information. The study estimated that only 14.1 percent of the revenue from a large chain retailer is spent within the local and state economy. The rest goes to out-of-state suppliers or corporate headquarters. Additionally, the study compared charitable contributions by the eight local businesses, Target and Walmart. In 2002, the eight local businesses gave $24,000 to charities, twice as much as Target gave and four times as much as Walmart. From this perspective, "big box" stores do little to serve the communities they profit from.
I also take issue with the large chain stores' "green" campaigns. What is green about building a warehouse-sized behemoth of a building on the edge of town, forcing people to drive miles to do their shopping? What is "green" about sprawling strip malls on busy highways and streets? I have seen a lot more concrete than green space at these large malls dotted with chain restaurants.
Wouldn't it be more "green" to design viable downtown areas with large, walkable sidewalks? Isn't it more "green" to have smaller buildings that use less energy to stay warm and cool? Isn't it more sustainable to invest in people? Doesn't it feel good to visit your local store and be greeted by someone who knows your face and acts happy to see you?
Local Jackson businesses, I am glad you're here. I admit I have strayed in the past. It won't happen again. We need you, and thank you for your business.
Casey Purvis is a Fondrenite who loves planting flowers and watching the birds in her backyard. She is an avid "junker" who loves finding old furniture and giving it a new lease on life. She is owned by Phoebe, a nine-year-old Lhasa Apso and works as a nurse in one of the local hospitals in her spare time.
Thanks for this piece, Casey!!!!!! Love the tack.
As a homeowner, I have done repair jobs around the house that required certain parts to be replaced as they become worn. On at least two occasions, I went to the national 'big-box' chain stores, only to find that they did not have these parts that were required - they're the ones that are supposed to have everything, right? Anyway, on both occasions, I found exactly what I needed at locally owned hardware stores; each time on the first visit. I have since pretty much sworn off the big outfits in favor of the smaller enterprises, and have yet to be dissatisfied.