By Tim Collins
In the face of more competition from big-box stores and international retail and service giants, a group of Victoria independent business owners have joined together to promote a concept sweeping across Canada and the United States with no signs of slowing.
The movement goes by a variety of names, but it is commonly known as Think Local First (TLF). It’s a concept that encourages people to shift their buying habits so at least 10 per cent of their purchases are made at local, independent retail and service outlets. Victoria’s version of the movement is called Think Local Victoria and its founder, Gayle Robinson is the owner and president of Robinson’s Outdoor Store on Broad Street.
According to Robinson, the concept is not based upon what she calls ‘mercy buying’ — the purchase from local stores simply to keep them from going out of business — but rather on sound economic and social principles which benefit the entire community.
“At the time we started this program in 2011, we were told by the Downtown Business Development Association that there were 73 vacant storefronts in downtown Victoria. When you consider that the small independent storefronts in a city’s downtown are really what defines a city’s character and culture, the loss of those businesses can be devastating to its soul,” said Robinson. “When visitors come to Victoria they don’t come for a visit to a big box store.”
“They want to wander downtown and explore the little shops that tell our story and reflect who we are. Take that away, and tourism, and tourism revenue for the community suffers.”
For locals, it also makes a lot of sense to shop at local independent stores, said Robinson. She points to the level of service, the value and uniqueness of products, and the product knowledge in place at many of her organization’s member businesses.
“You won’t find the quality of a Rogers Chocolates or the intimate knowledge of literature they have at Munro’s Books at a big-box outlet. And at my store we have a base of knowledge about the outdoor experience not duplicated at a large outlet store.”
But perhaps the most compelling argument for the “10 per cent shift” advocated by Think Local First Victoria is economic.
According to the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), studies have shown for every $100 spent at a local independent, $45 of local secondary spending is generated, compared to $14 of local secondary spending when the same $100 is spent at a big-box chain.
“I’m not saying there isn’t a place for big-box chains,” said Robinson. “Of course there is…but they often can’t reproduce the product knowledge quality and character we have as independents, and they don’t contribute as much to the local economy. It’s just good business to consider the smaller outlets first.”
Robinson’s organization originally meant to include only independent businesses in downtown Victoria, but has now expanded to all parts of Greater Victoria to include 170 independent businesses. To celebrate that success, 30 members have joined together to offer the Think Local First (TLF) Rewards Program.
“Every time you buy anything at one of the member businesses, you get five merit points on your card. When you get to 200 points you can go on line and claim rewards like gift cards,” explained Robinson. “It’s our way of giving back to those people who are supporting local businesses.”
Cards and a list of participating businesses are both available by registering at thinklocalfirst.com.