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Nose Under the Community Tent

By Paul Losch

About this blog: I was a "corporate brat" growing up and lived in different parts of the country, ending in Houston, Texas for high school. After attending college at UC Davis, and getting an MBA at Harvard, I embarked on a marketing career, mai...  (More)

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Shopping "Local"

Uploaded: Nov 25, 2011
I had occasion earlier this month to attend meetings of locally- owned business, where the conversation was largely around how to boost their sales this holiday season, with a lace what it takes to encourage local patrons to patronize local merchants.

This can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. Having the experience myself of being a small business owner, I think I can speak with some real life perspective that it can be exhilarating, or it can suck. Locally owned retailers, which my business is not, face particularly tough challenges.

Here are a few that were discussed in the meetings I attended, primarily in the role of an observer (although I never can attend an event without offering up some ideas and opinions:)

1. Perception: Many locally owned retailers have competitive prices and superior service compared with Big Box and some of the chain stores at the Stanford Mall. And the selection is often more interesting. What concerns me is that the perception is the opposite, and many shoppers do not even consider walking University and California Avenues in Palo Alto, or Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park. My suggestion: shoppers should re-think this perception, as they can get the merchandise they seek from a local business in many cases

2. Habit: there are different shopping events that everyone practices. Getting the weekly groceries is not the same as buying a little black dress. I live near the Whole Foods and the CVS Drug Store in downtown Palo Alto, neither of which is a locally owned business, although Whole Foods does make an effort to be community minded--it is part of their culture. For many things, they are my best choice for routine purchases.

But what about a new pair of sneakers or a pair of slacks? There are places that are locally owned that can sell such things to me. I confess that I need to get out of the notion of getting in and out of Stanford Shopping Center as quickly as I can, and think more carefully about locally owned retailers that can meet these same needs.

I will add that being a male, "shopping" is not my thing. I decide I need to buy something, I go to a store like Gap where I can get some new jeans, and get away as fast as I can.

So habit is difficult to change, but begins with all of us giving more thought to where we go to purchase items that may not be a weekly, but do come up for back to school, replacing a worn item of clothing, and other things that fit such a description.

3. There are numerous gifts that can come from local retailer and service providers that may be better than purchasing a product that may or may not really be appreciated. How about a spa package? A gift certificate for getting a car serviced or detailed by a local shop? Many others are possible. This idea was one that came up in one of the meetings I attended recently, and the person who suggested it is on to something.

4. Mine is not a bleeding heart: Big Box has its place, and several retailers who fit this category have achieved great success. There are many things that can be bought at a Big Box that are a great value. Having dealt with some of them in my company, I can say that they are ruthless with small business vendors in their requirements, not just on pricing, but on logistics, product availability. Some I simply chose to not engage. The level of effort involved to gain such distribution did not pencil out. Let Proctor and Gamble coordinate with WalMart, Kimberly-Clark sell bulk paper products to COSTCO, and Boise-Cascade sell its inferior line of wood products to Home Depot. Again, nothing wrong with this, and there are many shopping occasions where "French Discount Tarjay (Target)" makes sense.

5. Mine is not a bleeding heart, part 2: while my sentiments lean toward patronizing locally owned retailers when they can meet my need, I am not going to purchase something at a local company if it is off the mark for what I am seeking. Frequently, there are trade-offs on what to buy, no item from any retailer is 100% spot on. That's when I advocate a tilt toward our local merchants, as there are many benefits to having them here and keeping the money in the community as much as possible.

BOTTOM LINE? We all need to think outside the Big Box and consider unique and thoughtful gifts this holiday season which we can acquire from local proprietors. And going beyond this holiday and gift giving season, we need to modify more prosaic purchasing behavior and support as much as we can local companies that can satisfy our purchase needs, rather than just hit the chain store.
Please have a good holiday season, and thanks for thinking local as much as you can.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Shop Mountain View, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 6:15 pm

There is little to nothing that local stores have that I am interested in. I am shopping in Mountain View--at Kohls Traget and BEst Buy. They have what I want. Overpirced boutiques do not fit the bill--Palo Alto did not want large stores in their borders, now they will pay th price. For better prices, better choices and easier parking shop Mountain View.
Plus if you shop outside PA there will not be a traffic problem in the city--after all there is always too much traffic.

Posted by shopper, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 6:45 pm

The problem with buying local is that different stores are to spread out. Downtown Palo Alto has too many boutiques and not enough stores selling anything else. With the sluggish traffic around town and high gas prices, shoppers don't want to make more than a couple of stops to do all their shopping.

There used to be multiple bookstores downtown, record stores, non-designer clothing stores, etc. Were they all driven out by lack of demand? Or greedy landlords charging too high rents?

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm

One simple thing folks could do to help local business, and the economy and society in general:

Don't patronize merchants that employ illegal immigrants.

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Nov 26, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Your idea is one of those feel good ideas that sounds good until reality sets in.

A trip to Target or Walmart enables most shoppers to get almost all the things they need to buy in one shopping trip. From gifts, gift wrap, decorations, cards, etc. to the household supplies for hosting a large family gathering, an hour walking up and down the aisles is all that is needed plus another trip to do the same at a decent sized grocery store and it is all done.

A frivolous day of drinking coffee, idly walking around stores where we end up with impulse buys that no one really wants followed by eating lunch and people watching while soaking up the holiday atmosphere, is all that downtown provides for most of us.

Costco, big box stores, Stanford Mall brand name stores and online shopping, are what most of us will be doing.

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