Since I began working at the Mad River Valley of Chamber of Commerce, I have made a concerted effort to connect with local business owners. It has been an eye-opening experience. While I have lived and worked in this community for a long time, I didn’t fully appreciate the interconnectivity of our local economy. The various sectors clearly impact one another and, in some cases, are dependent upon them.
As a “marketing guy” I had a novel thought. What The Valley really needs is a “Buy Local” campaign. Then I started to think it through. Nearly every community in the nation talks about buying local and how important it is. After some cursory research on the interweb it became clear that there was no shortage of models out there. Some have coordinated campaigns with discount cards, advertising programs and media buys. Others promote special local shopping days or events while others focus on the economic impact of buying local. The results of all these programs are varied and in many cases dubious.
The Mad River Valley is a unique and special place and our business community can certainly be a bit quirky. Any initiative we come up with needs to be an organic one that reflects the values of our community. In my view the purpose of a Buy Local campaign for the Mad River Valley is to encourage visitors and locals alike that buying local should be “top of mind.” This is not a silver bullet to the problem. This needs to be a long-term endeavor that, over time, shifts local and visiting consumer sentiment.
Everyone is well aware that for certain things it just makes sense to order online and we can’t fight that impulse. Most local business owners have evolved their businesses in an effort to offer what can’t be obtained online. The perfect ski boot fit, DIY knowledge at the hardware store, arts and crafts made by local artisans, an invigorating massage, cooking classes, health club memberships and yoga classes are all things that you simply can’t get on the internet.
So, what can we as a community do about encouraging shopping local?
First and foremost, give a little bit of thought to your purchases. Understand that when you spend your dollars locally they ripple through the local economy. What we need to focus on is encouraging folks to be thoughtful and make a connection between their spending habits and its impact.
The power of suggestion is powerful; word of mouth is the very best form of advertising. Share (literally and digitally) your knowledge of our community with friends, neighbors and visitors. Suggest gift ideas from local makers, retailers and service providers to purchase creative, local gifts. Who wouldn’t be stoked to receive a gift certificate for a glider ride, movie tickets, a restaurant or a ski shop? Doesn’t a thoughtful present from right here in town have special meaning?
We have reimagined the annual Country Christmas celebration as an attempt to work together to maximize the potential of this critical time period. Add your holiday event (or create a new one) to the Country Christmas in the Mad River Valley mix.
As you shop around the various neighborhoods in the Mad River Valley this year be sure to share your experiences on social media and help spread the word. Don’t forget to use our common hashtags – it really does help if we work together on the social media front:
The Mad River Valley will be participating in the national Small Business Saturday program under the auspices of the MRV Chamber of Commerce. Learn about the one-day-only deals your favorite retailers have in store!
Don’t forget that when we ask folks to buy local it is vital that we also buy local when we think about advertising our businesses. Be sure to investigate the incredibly valuable, hyper-local advertising opportunities at The Valley Reporter, WDEV/Radio Vermont, the Mad River Valley Resort Guide and the Mad River Valley Discovery Map.
Get involved with the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce. We are working cooperatively with local businesses to use our web page and social media platforms to promote buying local throughout the year. In the near future the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a Buy Local panel discussion to discuss the topic as a community as part of our ongoing Business Education Series. Let us know if you want to participate, and be on the lookout for details.
Remember that there are no silver bullets in the campaign to encourage buying local. A shift in mindset is required and that takes time. This is something we all need to be reminded of in many ways, on different levels year-round. Our job is to keep reinforcing the message, keep being innovative and latching on to what works.
Friedman is the executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce.