“Going local does not mean walling off the outside world. It means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages and serve primarily local consumers. It means becoming more self-sufficient and less dependent on imports. Control moves from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back into the community where it belongs.”

— Michael H. Shuman, author of the book Going Local.

A customer recently came in to pick up her dog from his grooming. My assistant mentioned to her that the dog food she likes us to carry, is in. She told him, “Oh, I’m sorry. I found it online for $3.00 less, and shipping is free!” I am struck, first by the insensitivity of a customer saying this to someone who has given her unbelievable customer service on every level for years and secondly, I sarcastically think to myself, “We never charged shipping!” Lastly, I am left to ponder a response. Now, for anyone that knows me, I tend to speak up respectfully when something bothers me, but, in business, I always have to consider how to educate without alienating. It is a tricky tightrope to walk, but I feel passionate about my small business, so I know there will be some response. I will tell you what I did in a bit.

Our independent pet industry businesses have been challenged by the huge box stores and internet alike. However, if you focus your marketing on keeping it local, and even strive to offer as much locally-made products as you can, you can help to keep that local money right there in your community. Spread the word about other locally-owned businesses that you support in your store each and every day. It really, really matters. Let’s look at the facts.

If someone spends $100 at a local business, almost 75% of the money that they spent remains there in the local economy. It goes to paying local workers, local tax revenue, that small business itself spending its money for local supplies and services, and so on. When $100 is spent at a non-locally owned business, including mass merchants, on average only $43.00 stays in the local economy. If you think about those transactions, day in and day out, seven days a week, it adds up fast. This is why it is important for you, the local business owner or employee, to understand the benefits of keeping business local and sharing this with your customers.

A Different Era

When I was a kid, the original Village Groomer was located in the downtown area of town. It was right on Main Street, squeezed between the locally owned pharmacy (remember them?) and the barber. Downtown was bustling. There was a shoe store, pizza parlor, florist, a few banks, a hardware store, beauty salon, a little restaurant called the Mug-N-Muffin and more. We had it all! We all knew each other and we all supported each other’s businesses. I skateboarded up and down Main Street running errands for a quarter. Always the entrepreneur! The local economy flourished, with the money flowing round and round, cyclically within the microcosm of our community. That same downtown is much quieter these days. There are empty storefronts, the banks have been sold and bought and the big banks are there now.

As more and more large scale retailers have popped up, our downtowns have suffered in many parts of the country. Many of our own children think that we’ve always been able to grocery shop at these huge chains, when in fact it is a recent, sad phenomenon, in my opinion. We’ve all become so rushed and crazy, under the gun and stressed out! We want to buy our underwear, electronics, prescriptions, auto parts and plants under one roof. Or do we? When it comes to caring for our best friends, I think people want a little more. It’s almost as if consumers have become desensitized to what actual great customer service looks and feels like. It’s more than a smiley sticker at the entrance. Some of them may not know they want more, but it’s up to you to encourage them to raise their expectations!

Does It Really Matter?

Literally, as I am writing this story, I am being mindful to thank my customers for choosing my family-owned local business. It may sound corny but it is a conscious decision that people make to support the little guys. I asked my clientele, via Facebook, to share with me how they feel about going local:

Christine: “I always want to support a local business because by doing that, I am supporting my community. Pets are part of our family and I know when I bring my pooch to the VG, he will receive the same love and care as if he was sitting on my lap in my home! I know I wouldn’t get this care anyplace else.”

John: “With a beagle, I don’t have a need for a groomer but I’ve been buying her dog food and other things at VG since we brought her home. It’s very important to me that I shop at locally owned stores where I know the employees are well treated. Whenever I leave VG, or see my friend the ‘Chicken Lady’ for bird food, I leave with a smile. Especially if I’ve had a hard day at work, a visit to VG or Chickadee Seed and Feed gives me a lift.”

Maureen: “It’s really important to us to support local businesses. At the VG and Chickadee Seed and Feed, it’s like hanging with the best of family. I completely trust the VG folks for grooming. Consistency and love of staff makes it easy for us to leave Gilbert for his grooming. In addition to excellent grooming and care, it’s just an amazing and comfortable experience. VG builds relationships and values us, our four- legged baby and our winged ladies…It’s a family at VG!!!”

Brien: “Matters a lot to me. In a world where corporatism reigns, quality suffers. When someone leaves a pet, they leave a family member. It matters to know the face, not just the name!”

Trish: “It’s very important to us that you are a local business and that you are family owned. We like to support our community business owners. Your experience and genuine caring for our dogs is also very important. Plus you have very high grooming standards and it shows. Our dogs look like show dogs when they come home. Love the VG!!!”

Diane: “I first brought our little guy to you because I heard about your family business. Your dedication, hard-working ethics and love for animals is why we stayed. Of course your wonderful personality had a bit to do with it too!” (No, I did not pay her to say that!)

Notice what these people say is important. Love. Personality. Work Ethic. Comfort. Quality. High standards. Family. Trust. Relationships. These are the secret weapons of the local business.

In addition to keeping money in the local economy and the personal expertise and service of local businesses, we also offer the consumer so much more:

Local businesses give locally. Every one of you has donated time or money to local schools, religious organizations or clubs.

Local businesses mean color and character! Imagine a world where every store was a box store, from sea to shining sea. How boring.

Local businesses keep product selection diverse. Box stores are there for one reason, which is to pay dividends to their stockholders. All choices are made based on numbers. A small business can get behind a product strictly based on believing it is good for their customers.

Small, local businesses are typically housed in existing structures, as opposed to those enormous oceans of asphalt way out on the edge of town. The consumer uses more gas to travel to the box stores, and those parking lots cover up more and more green space. (Walmart literally has hundreds of EMPTY buildings as I write this, yet they continue to tear down forests and build, build, build. Over 30 million square feet of empty buildings.)

Local businesses keep you local! Whereas huge box stores pull people out of their community’s epicenters, local businesses tend to be situated in areas where there are other small, local businesses.

Local businesses have a mind of their own. Can you imagine Lori Craig or Angela Kumpe having the freedom to create under the watchful eye of corporate America?

Local businesses take care of one another. We have each other’s backs when push comes to shove. Think of the way the groomers in New Jersey banded together after the floods, or the people in Oklahoma rallied after the tornado.

Seven out of ten jobs in this country are created by small local businesses.

When it comes right down to it, the local folks have heart. Heart is at the very center of what we do, isn’t it? We love these pets and we stand in as their caretakers every 2-8 weeks and tend to them with TLC. That is the magic of the local business. We get it.

I am once again running out of space for this issue of Groomer to Groomer. In my next column, I will talk about how to market your business with a focus on ‘localism.’ We’ll delve into how to keep your finger on the pulse of your community.

But back to the customer that saved $3.00 on that bag of dog food. You may think I’m a bit passive aggressive for this maneuver, but I can tell you, it felt good. This particular customer looks at our Facebook every day, sometimes more than once. I know she checks her Facebook every morning because she responds to my daily posts and specials. So, with that in mind, I posted this “Share if You Agree”sign.