Monday, February 21, 2011

They Won't Like This at Wal-Mart

There have been plenty of times when I chose to go without something rather than get it at Wal-Mart.  It's not snobbery.  To me, Wal-Mart is just a place where working folks go to shop themselves out of their own jobs.  I don't buy stuff made in China unless I really have no other choice, something that's becoming increasingly common today.  I will buy stuff made in the US but that's because they buy a lot of stuff from us.

Living on the island, Vancouver is just a two hour boat ride away but I don't shop there either.   Far too much money is already drained from islanders into cash registers in the Lower Mainland.  With this contrarian attitude I was pleased to learn that CUPE BC has launched what they're calling a "Ten Percent Shift" campaign.  BC branch president Barry O'Neill is asking his membership and the public to make a modest, ten per cent shift in their purchasing habits away from outfits like Wal-Mart and to local businesses instead.

The shift that this campaign represents is in one way a new direction for the public service employees union. After all, labour and business interests have been often opposing forces. Buy local is aimed at supporting local businesses -- not necessarily those which are union shops. Where they do agree is on strong local economies.

"  It's not a union thing,"   acknowledges O'Neill, "  but it's, I think, a position that the labour movement generally speaking should get behind. We're members of our community first."

Research supports O'Neill's conviction that these kinds of campaigns really can make a difference in a local economy.

The U.S.-based Institute for Community Self-Reliance has studied the impact of buy local campaigns on independent businesses for the past four years.
In the most recent study, 2,768 businesses were polled. Those in areas with buy local campaigns reported average revenue growth of 5.6 per cent in 2010. Those without reported revenue growth of 2.1 per cent.

About two-thirds of all respondents believed that "  public awareness of the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses has increased in the last year."

 A 2008 report commissioned by LocalFirst, an independent business advocacy group based in the Midwest, looked at the flow of money in West Michigan and found that for every $100 spent at a local business, $63 stayed to circulate in West Michigan. For every $100 spend at a non locally-owned business, $43 stayed in the local economy.

Sure the crap at Wal-Mart is probably a bit cheaper but it's also probably crap. When you shop locally you tend to get surprised at just how much is available in your own community and just how good that stuff is.  Over time you get to know more people from your own community and they're usually happy to pass along tips about what's going on and what is to be had and where.  Give it a shot.  It won't hurt.


Kev said...

Great idea, I much prefer the service and increased quality that is found at the small independent vendors anyway.

I have long argued with my union brethren that we need to get back to advocating for the public at large and that we have become too insular, only looking out for our own narrow interests, so this campaign is doubly good.

The Mound of Sound said...

I hear that, Kev. I'm old enough to remember when shopping malls were a rarity. People went to shops. Chances were there'd be a neighbourhood shoe store. Downtown there'd be a shop that carried Irish linens. Next door was a place that carried all manner of bone china dinnerware. My favourite was always the hardware store with wood shelves ceiling high and oiled wood floors.

But what I remember most was the seemingly infinite selection of stuff that was available. Today it's all standardized. Every mall has the same clothing stores, the same record shops, the same names, the same products, the inevitably excessive packaging. New York to Nanaimo, the same malls.

I'm lucky to live in an area awash in artisans, some of them incredibly talented. They make great stuff at very reasonable prices, gems that you won't find on the shelves in any mall store.