Be A Good Neighbor
BE A LOCALIST
By Candace Mattingly
Localism starts with you -- THE LOCALIST. The way we interact with our neighbors, neighborhoods and towns affects our lives and the lives of others. Everything we do at home and in our surrounding area matters -- all of it. The places we choose to spend our money, how we connect to other community members and the way we use the land reflects the type of society we want to create. Relationships are the bedrock of a community. Small town living is about knowing your neighbors. Buying from local entrepreneurs helps maintain a town’s unique flavor. Maintaining that unique culture starts with your actions and the way you strengthen or weaken the fabric of your town. Your everyday decisions reflect the community and cause powerful ripple effects to every aspect of a culture. One commitment to your community spreads the idea that localism matters. How you serve your community matters. Why you choose to participate is up to you.
Preventative care begins with the food you eat. Eating food from local farms is not only good for the local economy and the farmer, but it serves your body’s well-being too. Buying from a local farmer gives you direct access to fruits and vegetable that are at their peak time for consumption. Foods that are grown chemical-free contain the most benefits and vitamins for your health. Fruit and vegetables from the farm and from the supermarket may visually appear similar, however, the taste and nutrients vastly differ. Donald Davis and his team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry published a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition on the nutritional data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on 43 different vegetables and fruits from 1950 and 1999.
The study found “reliable declines” of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2, and vitamin C. The study concluded that the “efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance, and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.”
Commercial farms need to meet a quota to keep up with demand. Their goal is to improve production and streamline processes. If more demand for their product means squeezing out the nutrition, then that is the business decision that is made.
Small farms do not have to keep up with mass production. They can take care of their growing process to protect the purity of the food they grow and their career. These farmers are also your greatest ally. Their livelihood depends on people purchasing their goods.
Anyone that came of age during the height of music CD sales in the 1990s knows the chain stores Sam Goody, Camelot Music, and Musicland. They can also tell you that they went to those stores to buy the latest top-selling albums, but asked the advice of the music nerd at the local independent record shop for the coolest, underground CDs.
Today, it feels like we have a million choices, but really it is only preference of a few options. Do you want the original Nacho Cheese Doritos or one of the other sixteen flavors?
Local shops bring the individuality that is missing from big box stores like Target and Walmart. You can walk into any Target and generally find the same items for sale.
Independent retailers carry a smaller selection, but the discovery and diversity of selection cultivate culture. Each item in their store is hand-picked for local customers. Cobble together enough local businesses to replace the need for the big box stores and suddenly you have a vast array of options.
Artisan maker and entrepreneur opportunities also open up. They are no longer competing against massive brands and needing to shell out thousands of dollars for an opportunity to undercut their business to land on the biggest shelves in the world -- Walmart.
This big-box store is not only the largest retail store in the world, it’s the world’s largest company. Bigger than General Motors and ExxonMobil. They were able to achieve it with one business strategy -- deliver the lowest price to their customer at all cost.
At all cost. This was a lesson that was learned by national brands like Vlasic pickles. In the late 1990s, they struck a deal with Walmart to sell their novelty gallon jars in the store priced just under three dollars. The pickles flew off the shelves. The store and the pickle company were only making about a penny per jar, but they were selling 240,000 jars a week. Both companies were happy. That is until the gallon novelty jar started eating into their profit margin.
Customers stopped buying the high-profit margin items like pickle spears and hamburger chips in favor of the low-low priced gallon jars. Vlasic saw their profit plummet by more than 25 percent. When they asked Walmart for relief, Steve Young, a former vice president of grocery marketing for pickles at Vlasic, recalled to Fast Company that their response was, “If you do that, all the other products of yours we buy, we'll stop buying.' It was a clear threat.”
Walmart finally gave Vlasic reprieve and allowed them to change the size of the jar to just over a half-gallon. Young recalled their response was, “Well, we've done to pickles what we did to orange juice. We've killed it. We can back off." Vlasic filed for bankruptcy in January 2001.
The number one thing you can do to help your community create jobs is to stop shopping at Walmart. Vlasic is not the only company squeezed out by the big box store. Walmart favors low prices and requires their vendors to drop their prices every year they do business together. That means less profit for the makers.
Like corporate farmers, when a business needs to turn a profit or go out of business, they are forced to meet the pricing demands of their distributor. Makers in every department were forced to lay off American workers, close plants and move their operations overseas.
Carolina Mills, a leader in textiles headquartered in Maiden, North Carolina supplies thread, yarn, and textile to apparel makers. The company supplies about half of the makers that are distributed by Walmart. The pricing affects their business, too. As their customers moved overseas, there business dropped off. The company was forced to reduce to 1,200 employees from 2,600 and 7 factories from 17. They were also forced to move their production to Asia.
Small businesses are invested in their community. They support local nonprofits, little league teams, and buy girl scout cookies. They also employ over 77 million Americans, will never send their business overseas and account for 65 percent of all new jobs created in the past 17 years.
Do them a favor and stop “showrooming” in their stores to find a better deal online. This is one of the biggest problems small businesses face. Over 80 percent of small businesses are affected by this tactic to save a few bucks. It significantly impacts 47 percent of small businesses.
It’s the little changes that make the greatest impact. A study in San Francisco found that if only 10 percent of the dollars spent went into small businesses, there would be 1,300 new jobs and $192 million in additional economic activity.
Think Local First
The independent retailer is also more likely to source from other local companies and return three times as much money per dollar of sales back into the local community.
Local restaurants return more than double per dollar than national food chains.
When you’re asked for the name of your favorite restaurant, what is the first place that comes to mind? Over ninety percent of you will recall your favorite local cafe or family-owned restaurant. We are naturally drawn to a unique place where people know our name. Yet, we’ve been conditioned to think of the chain restaurants when we’re hungry.
Make a concerted effort to take the extra ten minutes and dine at a local restaurant. Drive the extra twelve minutes to the store with bad parking. Buy your insurance from a local broker, and get your taxes done by an independent CPA. Every choice you make builds or breaks the community.
The community depends on you. These businesses depend on you. You owe it to yourself to consider the quality of experience, customer service, and variety these small independents bring to the community.
Freedom of choice at a big box store is a fallacy. Purchasing that shirt also bought by three of your neighbors is like shopping at Camelot Music for that new Britney Spears album. When you could have had a unique shirt and The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs.
About Candace Mattingly
Candace Mattingly studied English literature and interpersonal communications at UNC. She lives with her husband, twin toddlers, and their dog in North Carolina.