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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Truth About Buying Locally...

I'll be honest with you and say that a few years ago my first thought whenever I would hear the term "buy local" wasn't ever a positive one.  I envisioned that guy who fueled his Whole Foods trips via a trust fund at nearly thirty years old and wouldn't know a struggle if it were to manifest itself as his white washed linen shirt and began dancing to the songs he had written about world peace and bunnies.  The other people that came to mind were the overprotective parents who take their kids to the Emergency Room over a scraped knee and shove forty-five vitamins down their ten year old's throat on the daily, finishing with none other than a wheat grass chaser.  I thought this way for a very long time because I couldn't be bothered to see what craftsmanship, tangible talent and creativity actually meant.

Food is what I always assimilated with something being considered "local" concerning things you could actually buy.  The city I live in even has a Farmer's Market every Saturday morning to help support the whole organic and free-range movement that has been happening now.  The side of locally sourced goods which tends to go overlooked fairly often is that of the craftsman type in most communities.  Chances are, if you live in a fairly populated area, there are more skilled craftspeople than you probably realize.

When I was in college, someone I had known since childhood actually said this:
"Why would I spend three dollars on a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-a when I can get one at McDonalds for a dollar?"
Something about rib meat and recycled chicken genitals probably...
I won't say you always get what you pay for, but sometimes certain scenarios lend themselves to being a little more obvious than others on that spectrum.  

I build furniture now.  That's not something I ever thought I would be doing, but in trying to figure all of this out and gain some business growth, the biggest obstacle is always exposure for me.  In the same way that people will walk right by a local Italian restaurant that makes all of their pastas and sauces fresh in the morning and spend the same amount of money at Olive Garden, my business often suffers the same fate.  People like the bland familiarity of buying consistently mass produced things for some reason.  

When our grandparents were buying furniture, it was an investment for a lifetime in most cases.  That's probably why so many of us still have generational furniture in our families.  Timeless designs that were sometimes commissioned, sometimes a product of original design, but always built by someone who was a professional at their craft.  Some time over the past few decades, automation (as expected) took over, most pieces were reproduced, and outsourcing to countries that allow sweatshops became the standard in pretty much every industry.  I'm not going to give you some sort of lesson about how sweatshop labor is immoral and horrible (though it is) because every westerner is guilty of buying those products.  All I am going to say is that furniture, jewelry, glass, and a slew of other things we consume these days through overseas labor were once expensive and seen as an investment instead of a consumable.  The lower pricing we have today is thanks to the menial amount of money the laborer is paid to produce that article.  That Ikea bookcase or sterling silver ring you bought probably changed hands at least three times and traveled across an ocean or two, but was still available at a lower price than the man or woman a few blocks away would have charged you to build something of the same design, but most likely better quality.

This opens the door to "feeding the corporate machine", politics, and all sorts of things that do nothing but break us all down a little bit more everyday, but I'm not into that stuff.  
I'm an offender.  
Not all I buy and consume is certified organic, locally sourced, or is guaranteed to have been made in hospitable work environments.  We're all guilty of that, but there are things we can learn from the past which I think would benefit us all by reverting back to them, including finding more local people to stimulate business through.  I know there are locals who gouge prices, but more than not aren't trying to get rich.  They only want to be happy in their career.  I've looked through Ikea catalogs (without bursting into flames, imagine that) and some of those prices are pretty mind blowingly high compared to similar things I build and sell, not even considering the quality aspect comparisons.

Like I said before, the biggest issues to overcome by the local career craftsman/woman/business owner has to do with exposure.  

There was a store around here that opened in October of 2013 to specifically sell locally-made products.  In July of this year, it folded and closed forever.  When the owners made the official announcement of closure on their Facebook page, a solid seventy-five percent (I counted) of the comments were something to the effect of:
"I am SO sorry!  I was planning on coming in soon to check it out!"
Just think if those seventy-five percent within the community had actually showed up sometime over those ten months, maybe bought something, or at least helped spread the word that the store actually existed?
The place may have had more of a chance to sustain itself.  

All I am saying is that the term "hidden gem" usually doesn't help a business owner grow.
If you believe in what your locals are creating, support them by giving them a shout on social media, take some business cards without leaving them to scatter around the floorboard of your car, and check on the costs and quality of having something built down the block as opposed to having it done across the globe.

This applies to every business: craftsman/woman, barber shop, a band, anything that flourishes with support.

It doesn't just take a community to raise a child.
It takes the whole community to sustain itself.


Grace and Peace,
-Drew
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