Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Tuesday Talk: Why Buy Local?

November 19, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

For many, getting that one-of-a-kind gift is much more valuable than just another sweater, sporting good, or electronics gadget. That’s the advantage shopping at most locally-owned stores provides—a unique, hand-made or locally grown product. But local merchants face many challenges, like competing with big chains’ multi-million dollar ad campaigns or lacking economy of scale in purchasing.

Still, combined marketing efforts and socially aware consumers have helped foster Minnesota’s buy local initiative, especially when it comes to food and produce.

This morning between 8 and 9:30, we have two local merchants joining Minnesota 2020 for a discussion about supporting and fostering buying local.

Please welcome Ryan North from Moss Envy in Minneapolis and Tom Vogel from Seward Coop.

For other local businesses,   what are some advantages and challenges to being an independent merchant?  

For consumers, how do you balance your shopping decisions to support locals?

 

Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.

67 Comments:

  • Rachel says:

    November 19, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Good morning! Ryan and Tom will be joining us at 8 for the live conversation. If you can’t join us then, please take a minute to share you thoughts. What are your ideas for encouraging holiday shoppers to buy local?

    • Rachel says:

      November 19, 2013 at 12:14 pm

      For anyone who isn’t already aware, we have a “Made in Minnesota Gift Guide” here at MN2020—created as a tool for our readers who are committed to purchasing locally made goods.

      You can find the gift guide here: mn2020.org/giftguide or under “Buy Local” in the policy issues drop-down menu above.

  • Gail M. Weber says:

    November 19, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Thank you so much for sponsoring this conversation.  It is a topic that needs to be addressed.

    I think the two biggest challenges from my perspective are:

    1) Convincing the consumer to take active steps to support local, independent businesses.  While in theory they may agree with the concept, convenience and cheap prices provide them with direct and immediate gratification.

    In addition, consumers, in general have an attitude that business is crass and don’t respect the concept. For example, they complain about retail shops being open on the holidays, as if it will be the end to civilization as we know it.  In reality this is a good thing for our economy, which ultimately benefits everyone.

    2) Convincing and helping the owners/marketers of local, independent businesses to take “active” steps to support each other. It is no longer a “one size fits all” business model and smaller business owners need to redefine their business model to adapt to current conditions. ‘If you build it, they will come” does not always work. 

    • Tom Vogel says:

      November 19, 2013 at 9:12 am

      Good points. Something Seward has been involved with over the past few years—along with several other food co-ops nationwide, as well as Equal Exchange—is Principle Six (P6), which highlights products that exemplify our primary ideals and principles—local being one of them. The goal is to increase market access for small farmers and build co-operative supply chains. We feel co-ops cooperating with co-ops ultimately has more power than any one of us standing alone.

    • Ryan North says:

      November 19, 2013 at 9:15 am

      Gail… YES! As the owner of a small local business those are definitely challenges. I think the first challenge you mention flows into the second one. Resources and $$$ tend to be thin so our messaging has to be succinct. It feels like there’s not always room to include an educational message about the importance of buying local. Which is why we turn to social networking (no $$$, just time equity) to get that message out. But it does feel sometimes like we’re preaching to the choir.

      • Tom Vogel says:

        November 19, 2013 at 9:21 am

        Ryan, glad you brought up social media. We’ve found it to be a cost-effective, agile way to promote the co-op and engage our owners—as well as staff from other departments besides marketing. I hear you on “preaching to the choir,” though. However, we’ve actually seen several meaningful conversations take shape on our Facebook page.

        • Ryan North says:

          November 19, 2013 at 9:29 am

          Yeah… every now and then in the store and online I get to witness a break through moment. Where you see that light bulb come one. THat ah-ha moment… that “Oh, this IS REALLY COOL” moment. I see it a lot when I talk about “low-discount-prices.” The low low prices that come from using cheaper materials and employing an over-sea’s work-force are at SOMEONE’S expense. Someone is getting taken advantage of for you to get that ridiculously low price. (On my soap box again)

          • Tom Vogel says:

            November 19, 2013 at 9:44 am

            Price—or at least price perception—is something that co-ops have had to struggle with for a long time. A lot of it stems from frustration over a broken food system and infrastructure, which we have very little control over. We try to offer access to good food to whomever wants it, but there is a point at which lowing prices begins to hurt others in the supply chain, as you note. It’s an educational challenge, getting people to see the bigger picture beyond “cheap” food/product.

            • Joe says:

              November 19, 2013 at 9:47 am

              I know this is a little off buy local’s topic, but would a federal farm bill that focused more attention on healthier local food systems help?

              • Tom Vogel says:

                November 19, 2013 at 9:53 am

                I think it would help considerably.

            • Ryan North says:

              November 19, 2013 at 9:51 am

              We talk a lot about REDEFINING value.

  • Ryan North says:

    November 19, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Good morning! Ryan here from Moss Envy! My Peace Coffee is brewing and I’ll be ready for a good chat on “buying local” at 8am!

  • Tom Vogel says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Good morning. I’m Tom Vogel, Marketing Manager at Seward Community Co-op in Minneapolis. Seward Co-op has been invested in supporting local growers and producers for more than 42 years. I’m happy to be part of this conversation.

  • Ryan North says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:08 am

    A little about Moss Envy… Moss Envy is the culmination of a couple of years of retailing (is that a word?) that started with a little eco friendly gift shop called “Re Gifts” near the corner of Cedar and 42nd. That grew into a bigger venture called “Twin Cities Green” on 24th and Hennepin. In 2010, we rebranded, moved, and opened Moss Envy! Moss Envy redefines value by providing eco friendly products that support a healthy home, sustainable lifestyle, and social awareness of people and planet. My wife (Tina) and I are the owners. I, too, am happy to be a part of this convo!

  • Joe says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Thanks Tom and Ryan for joining us. I know that both of you have strong adverting, but is it challenging competing with national chains who are able to buy multiple prime time spots?

    • Tom Vogel says:

      November 19, 2013 at 9:17 am

      I haven’t really found that to be the case. Relative to our size and place in the market, Seward has a strong brand and a presence in several mediums. A good portion of my marketing budget actually goes to community events, donations and sponsorships. I think money spent donating food or a gift card to a local event can, at times, go further than conventional advertising. That’s an advantage we may have over the big box guys.

      • Joe says:

        November 19, 2013 at 9:23 am

        From a policy perspective (state or local), are there ordinances or legislative measures that are needed to help grow buying locally? And in that case with this being the “unsession” at legislature, are there any outdated laws that need to go?

        • Mary Hamel says:

          November 19, 2013 at 9:31 am

          I can chime in here…MetroIBA/ BuyLocalTwinCities.com has a Public Policy Committee devoted to working on creating an environment that is conducive to helping local businesses thrive.
          One example of that is our work advocating for The Market Place Fairness Act, otherwise known as EFairness. This is a bill that will provide a level playing field for local, bricks and mortar shops.

        • Tom Vogel says:

          November 19, 2013 at 9:32 am

          That’s a tough question, and one I won’t even pretend to have the answer to. I guess the short reply is “yes” legislation could do more to support local business and agriculture. What that “yes” entails is the fuzzy area. I think a lot of people are disillusioned with how things work at the national level, but I’m encouraged by what I see at the local, grassroots level. There’s been quite a bit of legislative support for things like urban ag., alternative transportation like Nice Ride, and cooperatives here in the Twin Cities over the past 10 years or so.

        • Ryan North says:

          November 19, 2013 at 9:36 am

          Well… there’s the issue of online tax. Many brick-and-mortar shops feel like the ability to buy online outside of your state and avoid paying sales tax give an unfair advantage to online only retailers. We’ve felt the pressure of Amazon.com. We have certain items that we have to discount in-store so customers won’t “SHOP” us to get to know the product and then go buy it online. We have to lower our price and loose our margin to stay competitive on certain products - like mattresses for example. We have to offer a “MN TAX DISCOUNT” to make sure we’re competitive. I LOVE technology but buying online is DEFINITELY impacting mom and pops. There’s no stopping it… we just have to figure how to roll with it.

          • Ryan North says:

            November 19, 2013 at 9:57 am

            I like to remind my avid Amazon.com shopping friends that there is most often a small biz on the other side of that Amazon purchase that is taking a 15+% hit. You can bypass Amazon and buy direct.

    • Ryan North says:

      November 19, 2013 at 9:20 am

      I’m working on a response here…

    • Gail M. Weber says:

      November 19, 2013 at 9:24 am

      Do we have some type of membership/entity for consumers and businesses with incentives to buy local?  Just curious. And if not, maybe we should create one.

      • Mary Hamel says:

        November 19, 2013 at 9:35 am

        Hi Gail~
        MetroIBA, the Metro Independent Business Alliance is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support and advocate for locally owned, independent businesses in the seven county metro area. We are a member supported organization, made up of 250 local businesses. We assist in the areas of marketing, education and policy advocacy.

        • Ryan North says:

          November 19, 2013 at 9:43 am

          We’ve enjoyed being a part of Metro IBA. Membership feels good!

    • Ryan North says:

      November 19, 2013 at 9:25 am

      We do realize that we are competing with the big chains for customers, dollars, attention… but when it come to marketing, I’ve never really thought about it like a competitive strategy against the big box stores. We just tend to focus on the basics and hope that we build our customer base in a way that allows us to grow - and capture enough of the market share. At this point it’s a matter of slim resources… with the feedback of my wife… I’m a one man marketing team. However, we did just hire a PR firm! That kind of made me feel like a big time brand! Got my BIG BOY BRAND pants on! (It’s early.)

      • Joe says:

        November 19, 2013 at 9:29 am

        Ryan, just saw you are looking to expand east into St. Paul. Is there anything more you can tell us about that?
        Tom, how is Seward progressing with its new location?

        • Tom Vogel says:

          November 19, 2013 at 9:37 am

          Right now we are in the phase of getting the location rezoned for a commercial business. That entails getting the approval from the immediate neighbors. The process is coming along well, as we’ve has a lot of good conversations with neighbors and community members over the past several months. Our architect, LHB, just unvelied a proposed site plan and building elevation concept (you can see it at www.seward.coop/friendshipsite).

          • Ryan North says:

            November 19, 2013 at 9:50 am

            Who wouldn’t want you as a neighbor! smile

        • Ryan North says:

          November 19, 2013 at 9:42 am

          (funny) My wife just brought in the iPad to show me a space she’s eyeing up! We’re ready to expand and we’re focusing on our TWIN city - St. Paul! We’ve struggled to find a space that works for us. We’re under no pressure to open another location, so we can take our time to find the right one. You know what they say about “location.” BUT - we’re sitting on success and expanding just feels like the right thing to do. We’re excited to further tap into the artisans, makers, crafters, builders of St. Paul. Moss Envy pulls heavily from it’s local talent-pool to fill our shelves!

      • Mary Hamel says:

        November 19, 2013 at 9:56 am

        We like to emphasize the VALUE and SERVICE our businesses can provide. And it is a fallacy that Big Box Retailers will save you money. That is not always the case, especially as I said, when you factor in service and value. Add to that the effect of where the profits end up, it’s really a no brainer. Shopping locally keeps a significantly larger amount of money in the community which gets returned to us in quality of life. We call it the Multiplier Effect. Local businesses spend dollars locally on professional services, donate to local schools and charities,...they are just more invested in every way.

  • Mary Hamel says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Great discussion!

  • Joe says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Mary H, I’m glad you jumped in. Metro IBA has been doing some great stuff to generally promote Buy Local. What’s next on the horizon? Any new wrinkle for this holiday season?

    • Mary Hamel says:

      November 19, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Joe, Thanks for asking! We are not anticipating any wrinkles, in fact our businesses have reported steady holiday sales increases over the last few years. The Institute For Local Self Reliance does a survey every year and we have seen that not only are indie retailers doing better, but communities that have a Buy Local organization like ours do better than communities without one. This year, we are producing a Local Gift Guide that we will unveil next Mon at Midtown Global Market (11:00AM) Craig Taylor for the SBED Institute at the U of MN will be our featured speaker. The guide will be widely distributed online and will be displayed on our directory and Pinterest.

      • Ryan North says:

        November 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

        We haven’t quite felt that “holiday shopping” pop of business. Over the years, it’s pushed back - we used to feel it mid-November… now it’s not until we get into December. No snow doesn’t help. Maybe we need to do a “don’t wait for it to snow until you feel like holiday shopping” campaign.

  • Ryan North says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Gail Webber mentions… “Convincing and helping the owners/marketers of local, independent businesses to take “active” steps to support each other.” We’re always looking for ways to build up our small biz community. THere is power in numbers and organization! Moss Envy created a local Holiday shopping bus tour called the “One & Done: Twin Cities Holiday Shopping Tour.” It’s actually THIS Saturday and involves several local Twin Cities businesses… Moss Envy, Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Twiggs Home and Garden, Bibelot, Shop in the City, and Cossetta’s. You have to do your holiday shopping ANYWAY - this a great way to support local retailers, get your shopping done, and have some fun. (This is turning into a commercial - BUT I’m really proud of this effort!) Ticket sales have been slow so we just announced a 2 for 1 deal! More info at www.mossenvy.com/oneanddone (and… commercial over).

  • Ryan North says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:54 am

    What do you guys think about the American Express Small Business Saturday promotion? Is it a good thing or a bad thing cloaked in a good thing?

    • Mary Hamel says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:15 am

      Ryan~That is a great question. I have to admit, when I first heard that this was an American Express sponsored program I was skeptical. We are such big fans of Community Banking! But really without exception, our retailers have reported that Small Business Saturday has been great for their sales. Many started to accept American Express just for this one day and it has paid off. Also, most shoppers and even some in the media don’t realize it is an Am Ex program, so we can just enjoy the shout outs. Last year, all of the shops I spoke with reported that folks ventured in on that Sat and said, “I am here because you are a local business.” That was so exciting for us to hear!

  • Joe says:

    November 19, 2013 at 9:54 am

    From the sourcing and manufacturing side, are there any locally made gems, big or small, that people have no idea are made in Minnesota?

    • Ryan North says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:02 am

      Come into Moss Envy and I’ll personally give you a tour of our locally made gems! We have locally made candles, honey, bed frames, furniture, jewelry, cards, clothing, wallets, bedding, gifts, and more.

    • Mary Hamel` says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:03 am

      Well, I’m going to get myself in trouble here, because the minute you start to list, you will unintentionally exclude someone. But I’ll take a stab at mentioning a few.
      Wood From The Hood is an amazing company that repurposes fallen trees and demolished homes to create art, furniture, toys and more. Many of our retailers (like Moss Envy) carry their products.
      Angies Boom Chicka Pop is a great local success story. They are in Mankato.
      Esse Reusable Shopping Bags is a local business started by two women. MetroIBA just commissioned them to make some I Love Buying Local shopping bags that have been a big hit.
      Hollywood Fashion Secrets is also located here!

      • Ryan North says:

        November 19, 2013 at 10:11 am

        I would challenge consumers to take the “shopping local” idea even further… seek out local manufacturers that are utilizing local materials and labor! We have a furniture guy who does beautiful work from locally fallen trees… same concept from “Wood from the Hood.” Very cool! We’re finding that there ARE customers out there who are on a mission to shop that way! Or at least shop MORE that way. (They tell us.)

    • Tom Vogel says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

      We try to label everything local pretty clearly, knowing that’s a big selling point for our customers. I’ll just throw in a holiday plug for co-ops here—people are often surprised at how much local food you can get in MN in the winter. Obviously, fresh produce can be a bit of a challenge, but we also sell great homemade baked items, specialty meats and cheeses, and locally made apparel & crafts.

      • Joe says:

        November 19, 2013 at 10:17 am

        Are locally grown greens available in the winter months? If so, what are they?

    • Gail M. Weber says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:09 am

      Well since you asked…. my magazine, Exploring TOSCA is the best source of local arts and cultural events you can find in Minnesota. The print publication is my “brick and mortar.” We have been publishing for 7 years now. Our website is tctosca.com.

      Our subscribers, that pay to receive the magazine are well-educated and more likely to support local businesses in my opinion.

      • Ryan North says:

        November 19, 2013 at 10:17 am

        Is TOSCA an acronym?

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    November 19, 2013 at 10:01 am

    I do very little retail shopping and try always to buy used items (clothing, books, DVDs) rather than new, but I do love to eat out at small, independent neighborhood restaurants that serve farm-to-table meals.

    • Ryan North says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:05 am

      Bernice… can you put into words the difference you feel when you eat out that way?

      • Gail M. Weber says:

        November 19, 2013 at 10:17 am

        This is a great conversation. I have learned so much in such a short period of time and feel very motivated to look further into many of the things mentioned here. I love the Holiday Bus Tour idea. And the Metro IBA concept.

  • Joe says:

    November 19, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Slightly off topic, but has the show Portlandia helped or hurt with Moss Envy and Seward’s efforts?

    • Ryan North says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:12 am

      HA! No, it’s helped. We’ve put more birds on things.

    • Tom Vogel says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:15 am

      I don’t know if it’s big enough to have had an impact. Among ourselves, we get a kick out of the depiction of co-ops and locavores. I think most people watching that show are in on the joke.

    • Ryan North says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Seriously though…. it does sort of propagate a stereotype when it comes to being a “concerned” consumer. We actually completely re-branded from “Twin Cities Green” to “Moss Envy” because of where the term “GREEN” went. “Green” was over used and abused to the point of annoyance and irrelevance.

      • Gail M. Weber says:

        November 19, 2013 at 10:23 am

        Yes. Ryan. It stands for Theatre, Opera, Shakespeare, Culture, Art.

        Good point about the term “green.”

        I still think we need to do more work to educate and influence consumers. We need to move them from the “opinion” phase to the “belief’ phase.

      • Joe says:

        November 19, 2013 at 10:23 am

        I always wondered where Moss Envy came from. Back when we wrote the Made in Minnesota sustainable edition, I thought you were a plant.

        • Ryan North says:

          November 19, 2013 at 10:26 am

          Here’s the official answer… From a conceptual point of view, “Moss” invokes thoughts of green, soft, serene, and natural… a living plant that grows delicately upon its host. Moss is not in a hurry, is not harmful, and has a gentle connection to the Earth below it. Why wouldn’t we envy moss?

      • Tom Vogel says:

        November 19, 2013 at 10:24 am

        Good point. One thing we really try to do is be as welcoming as possible, and break apart that image of co-ops being exclusionary or elitist. Our awning reads “Everyone Welcome.” The idea is to make people who may not be familiar with shopping co-ops feel more comfortable.
        I think that’s a challenge of a lot of small businesses—to take down the invisible “keep out” or “members only” sign and make ourselves open to people not necessarily used to shopping local.

        • Joe says:

          November 19, 2013 at 10:26 am

          How much of a role does walkability play into your success? Would you have to use a different strategy for suburban locations?

          • Ryan North says:

            November 19, 2013 at 10:28 am

            Walkability is very important. Foot traffic sure does help. We also like being right on a bus route and near the Greenway!

          • Tom Vogel says:

            November 19, 2013 at 10:30 am

            It’s pretty important—that and biking. We try to encourage it as much as possible, but realize that it can be difficult to carry large bags of groceries on foot, especially in the winter. Ultimately, we’d like to see options for healthy fresh food within walking/biking distance of everyone.

        • Ryan North says:

          November 19, 2013 at 10:27 am

          Yes… we have to make our seemingly “niche” operations relevant to the mainstream.

  • Ryan North says:

    November 19, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I kind of like the 3/50 Project concept… http://www.the350project.net/home.html Check it out!

  • Tom Vogel says:

    November 19, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I have to day good-bye. Thanks, all, for the great conversation!

  • Linda Winsor says:

    November 19, 2013 at 10:34 am

    I am a citizen member of MetroIBA and I shop local indies, especially MetroIBA biz members.  I know that more of my dollars stay in my community when I shop, dine, bank, etc. in my local indies.

  • Joe says:

    November 19, 2013 at 10:34 am

    We’re about to wrap up the guest portion of the conversation, but please feel free to weigh in with a comment at any point. Minnesota 2020 would like to thank Ryan North from Moss Envy and Tom Vogel from Seward Co-op for their fabulous insight on buying local. We also appreciate Metro IBA’s work on behalf of the area’s independent businesses.

    • Ryan North says:

      November 19, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Thanks for including Moss Envy! We appreciate the opportunity.

  • Ryan North says:

    November 19, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Thank you MN2020 and Seward Co-op! We’d love to continue this conversation on Facebook (www.facebook.com/mossenvy) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/mossenvy). A healthy dialogue will/can bring about meaningful change! Here are final thoughts from Moss Envy… 1) Be a part of a meaningful movement to shop locally. Maybe it’s the 3/50 Project, maybe it’s an inner-family challenge, maybe check out what Metro IBA has to offer! 2) Put your $$$ where your mouth/heart is - buy a 2 for 1 ticket for our “One and Done: Twin Cities Holiday Shopping Tour! 3) Talk about this! Talk about shopping local in your real and online social networks… AND 4) Write reviews! Especially if you had a great LOCAL experience! Hop on Yelp and give ‘em a 5 star review. This really does help! THANKS!!!!