A Word from Robbin

LOCAL

adjective

  • of, relating to, or characteristic of a particular place; not general or widespread
  • primarily serving the needs of a particular limited district

There is an old blues song called “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” written by Jimmy Cox in 1923 and briefly popularized by Eric Clapton on his Unplugged album in 1992. It’s about, as the title suggests, one’s inability to count on so-called friends when the going gets rough. What does this have to do with “local”? Indulge me.

We are all aware, to varying degrees, of the merits of buying local, although it’s often hard to do, especially in the middle of a pandemic when online buying options appear safer and more convenient than visiting local shops.

So it’s a good time to examine our motivations for buying local as we make our purchasing decisions this summer, which is shaping up to be a busy one on the Cape.

There are two main drivers behind the buy local movement…

The first deals with the environmental concern of shipping products all over the world and supporting industries that employ practices unfriendly to the planet and our health. It’s about rejecting certain products in favor of those that leave a softer footprint on the earth. Excellent objective, but not always easy to practice because certain things are simply not grown or manufactured locally. Are we all ready to give up coffee and bananas?

The second motivation for buying local is about supporting the local economy by patronizing smaller, independent businesses over national chains. So even if my coffee comes from South America, buying it from the local coffee shop instead of from a national chain store is preferable because the profits stay with a local business. Another great goal. But what if the national chain store is owned by a local franchisee? And how do we detect and avoid businesses that have local-sounding names but profits are going somewhere else?

So, upon closer examination, our goals for buying local may not always be clear, and without doing a lot of research every time we need a grocery item, it’s hard to be sure we’re accomplishing them.

So I would like to make the case that there is a compelling third reason to buy local, one that is easy to navigate and from which we can derive direct benefits in addition to the altruistic ones. And it’s not about the product or the ownership of the selling entity – it’s about the individuals who represent those sellers and the relationships we build with them.

Like a lot of business owners in this pandemic era, I have had to look for ways to reduce operating expenses. My local vendors have been responsive, understanding, and helpful. I am sure they have their own financial concerns, but they have worked with me to help me manage my budget and still keep me as a customer. And this was true also for larger companies with a local presence and local reps who have invested in relationships with customers and worked to become valued vendor partners. I am forever grateful to all of them, and I have tried to treat my customers the same way.

I had the exact opposite experience with the larger regional and national vendors who don’t have invested local human beings. These are the places where you talk to a disembodied voice in customer service. They stuck to their corporate policies and provided zero assistance or even empathy. I am sure that, like the song says, as soon as times are good again, they’ll be calling me like my long-lost best friend.

There is nothing like hard times to shine a spotlight on your relationships, and in these hard times I have discovered that relationships are what matter. It’s about who knows you when you’re down and out. And you have the best chance of building strong, meaningful relationships with people you have more personal contact with. Those individuals tend to be physically located in your geographic vicinity – another way of saying “local.”

Want to continue the conversation? Email me at robbin@capespace.com – I’d love to hear from you!

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