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Why People Really Buy Local

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

When we buy local, we support small business owners, many of whom are great community supporters, always giving back in helping with local causes. The sales tax collected from local purchases comes back to the community and, theoretically at least, reduces the amounts of other kinds of taxes needed to operate our government entities; schools, cities and counties. Too there's the axiom we've heard for years that every dollar spent locally will circulate five or six times in the community. All in all, buying locally is good for the economy and sets our communities up for healthy growth. These are all viable, compelling and rational reasons to buy local. 

People Don't Buy Based on Reason 

The challenge is that most people don't make purchase decisions based on viable, compelling and rational reasons. People make purchasing decisions based on emotions that even the experts don't totally understand. Preaching--i.e. appealing to people's reasoning--to buy local is not enough. In fact, it's a turn-off to some people. I estimate that only 10% to 15% of the population will buy local just for the sake of buying local.  

Some People Buy Only Based on Price 

Many, but certainly not all, think price is the only thing that matters. In her 2004 country hit "Red Neck Woman," Gretchen Wilson sings "…Victoria's Secret, well their stuff's real nice. Oh but I can buy the same damn thing on a Walmart shelf half price…" Most of the "Red Neck Women" in the world are not going to buy local from the mom and pop shops. 

While buying at the local Walmart is not considered "buying locally" by some, at least the sales taxes generated stay local. So, if you're going to buy from Walmart, better in your home town than somewhere else. BTW, Walmart does not necessarily have the lowest prices on everything, but they've spent a gazillion dollars over the years advertising that they do. It's a hard myth to bust. 

People Want Excellence in Shopping 

So, what is it that makes some small, mom and pop stores survive and thrive even in a global economy with the dreaded box stores everywhere and competition from every possible kind of Internet sources? Excellence. Excellence in the goods and services offered and in the way they are presented. People want to be treated with kindness. They want to receive what they expected for the price paid. Being surprised by receiving more than they expected keeps them coming back again and again. People want a positive experience they can't get anywhere else. Most of the box stores and Internet outlets are horrible at providing a positive experience.  

People Want Excellence in Public Institutions 

In a broader sense, the principles of "buying local" apply to our public institutions as well as small retail businesses. We all expect a certain level of competency from our local and county governments, our schools and hospitals. But once those basic competency levels are met, what determines where people want to live, go to school or go when they are sick? They will go where they get the most attention and the most positive experience. 

There are programs and initiatives that help businesses and public entities sharpen their skills at offering a positive and excellent experience. We have access to some of them but it starts with an awareness of what people really want and a desire to provide an excellent experience. It's the interactive experience with all entities in a community, and whether it's excellent or not, that determines where people want to live, work and shop. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  

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