Why Should We Buy Local When It Isn’t Equal?

ArleighBetter Bike Industry, Featured25 Comments

small business colorado

During the past month of mad scrambles to get presents and my new routine of walking the streets of Boulder, Colorado, past boutique’s and chains I have become jaded.


I believe my feelings changed around the time American Express started pushing “Small Business Saturday” the day after Black Friday several years ago. If you really are a small business owner, there is a chance you don’t even accept American Express because of the raised fee’s the card brings. Small Business Saturday should be sponsored by the US Treasury to promote the exchange of paper bills and metal coins, not plastic that costs the small business more margin (think 3% of the maybe 30% that the merchant may be netting.)

Back to my original thoughts.

I’m a proud gold card carrying Starbucks customer. Daily, I walk past many cute little coffee shops in Boulder, Colorado, on my way to the office in the morning. I have tried three over the past month, a couple of them numerous times, and it has been a 50/50 split of leaving with happiness. Maybe I have high expectations but to me a local business should deliver me an equal, or maybe even better, experience of the chain next store. I’ll happily pay a bit more for this. The coffee should taste equal or better, the atmosphere should be welcoming.

Here have been my experiences at these local coffee shops

  • My credit card was accidentally charged twice
  • My drink order was forgotten
  • The staff treated me like I didn’t belong (no smile, no exchange of pleasantries)
  • Twice, I have walked away with an amazing cup of coffee but all other times my Keurig produces equal quality

Get to the point

This venting is not to ridicule the local coffee houses of Boulder but to prove a point that buying local does not mean that you should be settling.

There have been many comments over the years when I link to JensonUSA or any online retailer to buy a product that I’m not showing love for local bike shops. While I have the softest place in my heart saved for local bike shops with out the name “Trek” or “Giant” in their name, I also have a higher level of standards for these shops. Being a local bike shop does not mean you have arrogance about you, your mechanics are too good for hybrids and your bathrooms reek. Being a local shop means you need to be better, work longer hours, and have higher standards. If you can’t deliver that, then I will take my money elsewhere and recommend for others to go somewhere I know they will be treated well like REI or JensonUSA.

As the world of consumerism changes, I don’t believe Amazon is the devil or the end of local businesses. I believe local businesses need to step up the service, the quality and they will be happily rewarded.

25 Comments on “Why Should We Buy Local When It Isn’t Equal?”

  1. I’m a firm believer in shopping local, building relationships with your neighbors, and keeping the wheels of commerce moving to develop my community. However, there are limits – my case: After a decade of dealing with the bureaucracy and indifference of my big national bank, I decided to give a local credit union a try. “local concerns, local support…”, all that horseshit. After a few months, if dealing with the clueless staff, a painfully horribly designed website, and complete indifference by the management over an attempted loan, I decided not to make a complete switch and stayed with the big bank. At least they had process and policies I could reply on, and point to when I ran into issues. The little credit union? not so much.

    I still try to shop locally and limit my on-line purchases as much as possible, but not at the expense of rewarding bad behaviour and poor customer service.

  2. Hi Arleigh – I totally agree. Some small businesses “get it” & others just seem clueless. I’m 55 & my 1st few jobs were in retail. Things aren’t the way they used to be when I was growing up. The way to be successful is to greet & treat customers like they are welcome. The owners need to be engaged & set the example.

    Just a few recent examples when I tried to support my local bike shops: One salesman was condescending (don’t they know that calling someone “dear & honey” can be inappropriate), another place let me walk around the store 2 times without any kind of acknowledgment, another store had the sales clerks all gathered around the cash register just chatting it up, and another place had a salesman who probably needed to see a doctor for an itch in an inappropriate place. I’ve spent money at each of those shops in the past, but based on these experiences, not one of those 4 shops will ever get my business again.

    There are a couple of bike shops around here that truly do provide good customer service. Those shops are the ones I hope continue to operate & I want to support.

    There are so many other issues for small shops – the manufacturers don’t make it easy on them. It’s nice that we can get a variety of goods online, but when you want to support locally, you’re limited to what they can afford to carry. Yes, they can special order, but it’s only with the distributors with whom they work. I wish the manufacturers would figure out a way to support the LBS especially when competing with the online merchants for the big ticket items.

    Similar experiences with coffee shops have happened to me although they seem to be limited to Sbux.

  3. One probably needs to define “service” here. Can a customer take their bike into JensonUSA to have them look at it and tell them what sort of derailleur it will need? Can JensonUSA do the work if the customer is not capable? I personally would only trust REI to work on the lower half of the bikes that they sell there… and nothing that is going to take any intimate knowledge of cycling history. Same would go for any of the wrenches at Performance. Not saying that there might not be an exception here and there, just not the norm. Those things aside, I do think both JensonUSA and REI are great companies.

    I guess what I don’t understand is the notion that because a place is local that it is “held to a higher standard” or that they should “work harder” than say… anyone at Starbucks? The foundation of such an opinion rests on the idea that a business expects your patronage if for no other reason than being local. I don’t believe that is any more true than the idea that a large company expects your business just because they are the biggest. Both are hoping to offer a good or service that you will find of value, so that you will surrender currency in exchange for said items.

    If you don’t find any value in a service or good that business provides, then vote with your dollars; don’t shop there.

    If you really care about supporting ‘the local folks’ though, then let them know what they can do to make it better. I doubt the owners of those small local businesses are going to make their way across this blog–or for other readers, your twitter feeds, your facebook statuses, etc. Let them know! With a call or an email… people are human. Sometimes a good employee makes a mistake, and sometimes a poor worker is hired for a position. Of course you don’t have to be mean or rude about it, but I can assure you that the little guys will appreciate the feedback.

  4. Brave girl! You said what so many have been thinking….and if not then Im sure you must have made them think. You’re right, things change, life progresses, you either keep up & shape up or drop out!

  5. I always enjoy this argument. Do people really think the “local” Starbucks employee flies in everyday from Seattle? Do folks think the “local” sales taxes collected by the store in their town are spent in Seattle? Are wages paid to “local” employees spent in Seattle only? Is it really more likely that a small business owner who resides locally is going to somehow give up profits to benefit the town while the Starbucks operator spurns local Little League teams and such? Are local Mom & Pop employees more likely than Starbucks employees to volunteer, be charitable or join local organizations? I just fail to concede that the “local” Starbucks or Performance store or their local operators, employees and many local shareholders are somehow dastardly exploiters from afar. Do folks really believe that two way loyalty, good service and friendship is only possible in a small local business? I do not think it a sin to avail myself of the greater variety, standardization of expectations and volume pricing available at branded stores. Nor conversely do I feel foolish paying more when the less tangible benefits are only available in locally opened enterprises. Both need to make me want to patronize them.

  6. I’m a local shop owner. I understand your frustrations. I hate Amazon because it is an outlet for manufactures to sell direct to the end users. It usually helps the end user get a good price and the large corporations like the manufactures and Amazon make higher profits.
    However, at local stores, you help employ your local community, you get to try products before you buy, and your get to spend time talking to professionals about their product knowledge and customer experience that relates to where you live. Don’t forget about how much time you spend shopping on-line and driving to your post office to return your items. This time should be spent in your saddle.
    If you continue to buy on-line from companies like Amazon, don’t be shocked when your local stores go out of business like movie rental stores, local hardware stores, local book stores, ect.
    Don’t get me wrong. Even I buy from Amazon when products are not available anywhere else.
    All I ask is that before you buy on-line, ask your local shop if they are willing to match that price. If they say they can’t afford to sell it that cheap, they shouldn’t be buying from a manufacture that doesn’t support them.

  7. In response to Mike D, local bike shops and REI are only as good as their hires. My local REI’s bike staff (along with the rest of the employees) are quite knowledgeable and helpful. Their $20 lifetime membership is one of the biggest no-brainers in retail and puts the price of a basic tune-up at $45. That’s about half of what it costs anywhere else local. While shops like Palo Alto Bicycles, Velo Tech or Cyclepath in my area stock pricier bikes and their staff might be more knowledgeable about boutique bikes, they don’t do a better job servicing my Ritchey Swiss Cross with a mishmash of Ultegra/Dura-Ace than REI would. Like BSG, I feel bike shops need to offer added value to justify their higher prices.

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