Gayle Robinson

Gayle Robinson

Think Local First amps up competition

Think Local First has grown from a handful of members to more than 150 Greater Victoria businesses today

Local small businesses aren’t trying to battle big box stores – they simply want a piece of your business when it makes sense.

In just two years, Think Local First has grown from a handful of members to more than 150 Greater Victoria businesses today. And while competition remains fierce, local business owners are embracing a co-operative mantra to woo new customers and keep them coming back.

“If independent business wants to make it, we’ve either got to grow together or let our business go,” said Gayle Robinson, president of Think Local First, the latest evolution of the Shop Local Victoria movement. “It’s the relationship people have with a shopkeeper that makes them want to go back and support that business.”

Robinson, also the owner of Robinson’s Outdoor Store, said Think Local First members are now looking at creating a local points and coupon system, modelled on Portland’s Supportland program.

Using an app or points card, customers are rewarded for shopping at local stores by receiving cross-promotional coupons or incentives to visit other member businesses.

“We’ve had 18 or 19 new members join Think Local First in the last week alone,” Robinson said. “We’ve quickly outgrown downtown boundaries and we’ve become regional organization, from Sooke to Sidney, Esquimalt to Oak Bay.”

Shop Local Victoria began when Robinson started researching similar initiatives in Chicago, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle in early 2012 before approaching the Downtown Victoria Business Association with the idea. She then used $1,000 in DVBA seed money to create a logo and promotional material and by late-2012, Shop Local was buzzing throughout downtown businesses.

The rebranding from Shop Local to Think Local First is intended to better reflect the business owners who have since joined the organization including automotive, retail, grocery, legal, insurance, building and green sectors, she said.

At Think Local First’s annual general meeting at the Atrium last week, Robinson told members the goal is to get Capital Region residents purchasing 10 per cent of their goods from local stores.

“That’s doable for every person, and it has a huge impact on the local economy,” she said.

Money spent at local business is kept in the local economy two to three times longer, Robinson said, as locals tend to buy supplies from other local businesses with a similar community footprint.

“Think of all that revenue opportunity, and it all comes from a tiny shift in our spending habits,” she said. “If there’s a good deal at Wal-Mart, go get it. Every person has the right to spend their money wisely, but every city that’s really thriving has a healthy, vibrant local economy, and that’s important, too.”

Learn more at thinklocalvictoria.com.