Shopping Local Businesses Can Pay Off
One of the great things about writing for The Pilot business section is that I am reconnecting with friends and fans of Sandhills Business Times.
Take Tony Grausso, owner of Seagrove Candle Co. on Broad Street in Southern Pines. He has always been a supporter and adviser, and I wrote about his company shortly after its launch six years ago.
Tony sent me an e-mail on Sept. 17 noting that I was "back" and asking me an intriguing question: "Ever hear of the 3/50 Project?"
Of course, I had not, so I immediately went to the website and began snooping around.
I soon discovered that the 3/50 Project was founded by accident the first week in March 2009 by Cinda Baxter, a retail consultant and professional speaker based in Minnesota.
It seems that there was a lot of gloom and doom talk about the economy that week on the major television networks, so Cinda decided to create a message that was positive and achievable.
She suggested in a blog post written on March 11, 2009, that consumers pick three independently owned businesses they don't want to see disappear and spend $50 each month in those businesses. Not $50 per business, just $50 total.
The next week, Cinda threw together a free flier businesses could crank out of their desktop printers to hand customers. By the end of the month, she had launched a website devoted solely to the 3/50 Project.
According to the website, if half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.
That is a staggering number, and one that got my wheels spinning.
What kind of impact could the 3/50 Project have in Moore County? Well, let's use the August numbers from the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.
There were 33,137 people last month who lived in Moore County and had a job. If each spent $50 every month supporting brick-and-mortar stores owned by local business people, it would generate almost $20 million annually.
Patrick Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce, says numbers like that quantify and reinforce what Chambers have been saying for years, "Shop local."
Coughlin first heard about the 3/50 Project from a Chamber colleague in Finger Lakes, N.Y., who called Coughlin last week to tell him that he is investigating implementation of the project.
So, after spending a little time on the website, Coughlin is intrigued and will lead a similar discussion at the Chamber board of directors retreat next month.
"We need to see how it may be adaptable in Moore County," Coughlin says. "While I wonder where this could go, our top priority will be to create a program that creates more value to our members."
If nothing else, Coughlin sees the national grassroots initiative as a way to "freshen up" the Chamber's "Shop Local" campaign.
The 3/50 Project website notes that for every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.
Grausso believes that consumers need to make a commitment to shop "Main Street" businesses in their local communities.
And his reasons are not entirely selfish. In addition to candles, Grausso sells the wares of almost a dozen artists, potters and craftsmen from Moore and the surrounding counties.
"Shopping locally provides us with income, it provides them with income, and it generates tax revenue," he says. "They're all interconnected, and the critical mass creates a very positive outcome.
"We're an outstanding example of a company that has been embraced by the community, and we're so appreciative of that."
Time constraints and a tough economy have made it easy for consumers to spend their dollars online and at big-box retailers, even when their hearts tell them that they can get it on "Main Street."
"Your motivator has to be a spirit to support the local community," Grausso says.
The 3/50 Project isn't an "all-or-nothing" campaign that insists consumers stop shopping in chains or franchises.
Instead, its message is about balance and not forgetting "the little guy" when shopping each month.
So, thank you, Tony, for the e-mail, and good luck to the Chamber board.
Our job as journalists is to provide you, the reader, with information. It's up to you to decide what to do with it.
We hope your choice benefits the brick and mortars our nation, not to mention our county, is built on.
Contact Ted Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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