Committing to Support Small Business
I'm guilty of the same thing that most of you are... saying that I support small business... and then taking the convenient or less expensive route when it is time to put my wallet where my mouth is. As a small business owner myself, I frequently talk about the benefits of using a small business... how on average 52% of the money spent stays in the local community, how it helps a family realize the American Dream, or at least provides the flexibility needed to care for their families, or that it creates a world of dreamers who believe that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. But then my frugal brain kicks in right at the time that I start pricing things out. I research EVERYTHING... and when that happens, of course, I will find some discount coupon online or a free shipping deal that makes the prices just a few dollars less than if I had purchased it down the street. Yes, it SOMETIMES costs more to buy things from a small business. But trust me, they aren't trying to gauge you, they are trying to not lose their shirt while competing with the big-box stores and online retailers who have made the profit margins unreasonably small. Those large businesses are purchasing in higher volumes, paying people less and outsourcing overseas in order to give you the best price... but is it worth it? Absolutely not. Here is what I have learned since committing that my company, TITAN Global Events will use small businesses when possible.
Now, I have owned a couple of different businesses, and like most small business owners, I am always worried about how much things cost. So, when I first started my business I ordered business cards. I found a company online to print them... they were ok. Nothing special but I needed them and it was the first and only thing I had purchased at that time. Then my husband told me about a local business expo that I should attend. I first dismissed it thinking that I couldn't GET enough business from attending, but since I had a little free time and since the networking event I attended earlier that day was a bust (all salespeople who worked for large companies trying to get business as well), I decided to go. It completely changed the trajectory of my business... not on the sales side, but on the vendor side. I met some wonderful small business owners and felt inspired by their commitment to the community. Just before coming to the show, I had been looking online for pens and other promotional items for my business. Nothing quite seemed to be what I wanted, even though there were literally thousands of options to choose from. One of the first vendors that I spoke with was a small business who sold promotional products. I wasn't in the mood for a sales pitch and waited until he was talking with someone else before I approached the booth. I was really impressed with the quality of the items he had on display and decided I would wait for him to talk to me. Weird, right? I am now waiting to talk to someone that I purposely waited to NOT talk to. I think that is the appeal of shopping online... being able to browse anonymously, but trust me, there is nothing anonymous about shopping online (ever notice those pop-up ads that follow you everywhere?). When he asked if there was anything, in particular, I was searching for I explained that I wanted a pen that wasn't too expensive but didn't feel cheap... and that I would like it to be red, or maybe silver. He thought for a moment and then asked that I give him 5 minutes to run to his car... he had the perfect item in mind. So, on a hot, summer Georgia day this man ran across the parking lot to get me the exact item I had in mind. It was perfect... red AND silver and looked very professional for less than $0.50. I realized that these businesses were what MADE the community feel special and unique. So at that moment, I decided that everything TITAN purchased was going to be from our community of small businesses.
First, I needed to order another set of business cards, so I called the local owner of a MinuteMan Press franchise (in Cumming, Georgia) that I met at the expo. I met him and his family, including his little boy who is about the same age as my son, who was helping him during the trade show. I had them submit a quote for my business cards, but it seemed a little high, so my old habits crept back in and I searched online for a better "deal". After comparing the options fully, I decided that the local quote was only a few dollars more than the online pricing, so I went with the small business. They actually stayed in touch with me throughout the process and when the cards arrived, I received a call from their manager to tell me that she was not very happy with the results, so they were having them reprinted at no cost to me. I needed them quickly so I went ahead and picked up the "bad" cards, which actually looked even better than the ones I initially ordered online for myself! In addition, the problem was not with their printer, it originated with the file from my graphic designer who didn't have the optimal color selection in the file. When the new cards came in I was preparing to go out of town and had lots to do... so the owner of the business personally delivered them to my house on his way home that day! Seriously??? THAT is why small businesses are better.
Then, I needed to order shirts for my event staffing company, so I called another small business owner that I met at the expo. He owned a Big Frog Shirt franchise that just opened near my house. I told him what I needed (major shirt brands of course) and he invited me to come into the store to actually see and touch the shirts.... and to show me a brand that could save me a lot of money, and that is LOCALLY manufactured here in Georgia. So, instead of the Nike polo shirts that I thought I needed, I went with the Augusta Polo... better quality, better prices and yes... LOCAL. His graphic designer even helped me to redesign my logo to save money on stitching (for free) and they have stayed in touch with me even after I got sidetracked with another project and had the put the order on hold for a while. No annoying emails that remind me that I have items in my cart that I didn't purchase or pop-up ads that stalk me no matter what website I pull up, but just a simple.. "How's everything going?" kind of an email letting me know that they will be there when I am ready.
I have a lot more vendors that I met at that show that I am planning to call as my business grows. Including the cookie lady, Heidi. As the holidays approach, I would normally default to a large order of tins from Harry & David as a thank you to my clients. Not this year. This year my clients are getting the MOST delicious and decadent cookies I have ever tasted... Heidi's Heavenly Cookies. Her store is between my home and my office, so yes, I am taking the more convenient route this time. And I am so proud of that.
By the way, here are the small businesses I referenced in the article:
Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More
(P) 770-889-FROG (3764)
Peach State Promotions, Inc.
Minuteman Press of Cumming