During recent weeks I have presented at a number of conferences that have focused on “local” and the importance of local businesses to the community.
When it comes to “local” I am in the confused group as like many consumers I am not sure what local means. I am fully aware that the dictionary definition is “relating or restricted to a particular area or one’s neighbourhood”. But, what is one’s neighbourhood.
One major US supplier defines local produce as produce that can be delivered from the farmer to the store with 24 hours. With modern jet flights that means it could come from half way around the world. At the other extreme Sat Baines at his restaurant in Nottinghamshire in the UK defines local as the postcode in which he lives and all food served in his restaurant has to come from that postcode.
Living in Western Australia which is the about the same size as western Europe, local could be the community, the shire or the State. I then visit “local” farmers markets where I have seen product sold from another State or another country under the banner of “local.”
The local debate
It is therefore encouraging to go to conferences where “local” is debated and in some cases re-defined. What we perceive as “local” as business people may not be how our local consumers define local.
In Geraldton, Western Australia, Jason McFarlane of Pracsys asked the consumer why they purchased locally, what were the drivers to shopping local.
His survey came out with the following in priorities
- Face-to-face engagement with a local person. The human aspect was the main driver. Not having to shop online to purchase products.
- Food purchased is fresher than purchasing from a national chain.
- They felt they should support local businesses who support the local community.
- Keep money local.
- It is more convenient to shop with a local business.
This may not have been the list we would have put together as business owners, but it allows us to ponder some of the challenges. Are we training our team to be engaging with the consumer, or are they simply processing sales transactions. Over recent years, as margins have tightened, so has the training programmes for team members. The result has been a general perception that customer service has declined. If we take on board this survey, training the team to be more engaging with consumers could be the secret weapon of local businesses.
Think “local” think farmers markets.
According to research carried out by the Australian Farmers Market Association in February 2014, 14% of families purchase their vegetables from a farmers market. Many people think local is about farmers market. The markets are a critical part of the shop local campaign, but “local” covers all businesses in the community and this is often not promoted enough to consumers. Manufacturers are just as important to the life blood of the community as are the retailers.
Local businesses that support the local community are important in the consumers mind. I come across many businesses that support the local community in many ways, but fail to make the local community aware of what they are doing. This is often through embarrassment or shyness. Large businesses are quick to promote what they are doing for the community as they know it helps build loyalty. Small, local, businesses need to do the same. This is a marketing opportunity and the community are interested in who is investing in the community.
Create a clear picture
The definition of “local” is blurred in many people’s minds. We need to create a clear picture and explain what is local and what the advantages are to the community of shopping local.
Consumers need to be aware of how much extra money circulates in the community when people shop local and how many people local businesses support in the workplace.
Shop local as a “feel” good factor is fine, but we need to provide strong reasons before it is too late.