OWNER'S MANUAL

Don't Just Buy Local, Buy Personal

Buying local is great, but to really support local entrepreneurs, go one step farther and buy personal.
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A small business near me closed down. I feel terrible because it's partly my fault.

Every entrepreneur has big dreams. Many have small budgets, though, so they do the best they can.

They hope for great word of mouth since they have no marketing budget. They hope quality and service will turn an otherwise terrible location into a destination. They have passion and desire in abundance, and hope hard work and persistence will overcome any roadblocks.

In short, they hope.

And every day, people like me crush their hopes.

Granted in this case I'm only a little to blame. I knew the little clothing store was doomed the day it opened. It seemed obvious, just from driving by, that the owner loves clothing and fashion and hoped to build a business out of that passion, but it seemed just as obvious the business would eventually fail.

We've all seen entrepreneurs open new ventures that we can tell will soon go under. I'm sure you drive by a few every day. (If you're like me you sometimes make a little mental bet on how long they'll stay open. Six months is usually a safe estimate.)

I never stopped in this particular store. While I could say was more convenient to shop elsewhere, the truth is I didn't stop in because I never saw any cars in the parking lot. I was uncomfortable with how I would feel, and how the owner would feel, if I looked around and didn't buy anything.

I would feel guilty. I'm sure you've walked out of a store empty-handed and felt like you somehow let an eager, enthusiastic, bright-eyed owner down.

The owner would feel disappointed. Every business is an extension of its owner, and when a business is struggling perspective is in short supply.

You know you won't make every sale, of course, but remembering that it's business, not personal, is almost impossible.  The customer who doesn't make a purchase in some small way rejects your business... and therefore, by extension, rejects you.

Each potential customer carries the power of validation or rejection.

That's a power I didn't want. But I should have, because I could have made a difference, however small.

Each of us can make that difference. Instead of buying local, go a step further and buy personal.

Put aside price/value calculations and rational market theory and survival of the fittest and take a chance on a new or struggling entrepreneur. Buy a few items from a local mom and pop. Hire the small restaurant down the road to cater a non-critical event. Call a new vendor and ask for a quote.

Sure, you already have established vendor relationships in place, but why not give other small businesses the opportunity to win you over? In the process you may find a great new vendor... or you might not.

But what's the worst that can happen?

You might spend a little more. The meal might not be great. The quote might miss the mark. That's okay. No matter what happens, be gracious. Be complimentary. Say something nice. Say thank you.

Pick a small business and give it a chance. Will you, alone, keep it afloat?

Of course you won't. I couldn't have saved that clothing store. But I could still have made a meaningful, even if momentary, difference.

At the heart of every business is a person with a dream, and few things are sadder than realizing your life will fall short of your dreams.

So stop in. Take a look around. Provide a moment of hope.

A little extra hope may be all that entrepreneur needs to keep going.

Last updated: Sep 21, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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