We’re working to encourage consumers to shop at locally-owned businesses, keep money in their communities, and contribute to a sustainable economy.

Big chains free ride on taxpayers while responsible small businesses suffer

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Of the 50 companies with the most employees on Medicaid in Massachusetts, almost half are retail and restaurant chains...The public cost of ensuring that employees of these companies have health insurance and enough to live on represents, in effect, a hidden corporate subsidy.

A new study shows that big chains like Walmart and Target force large numbers of their employees to rely on the government for health insurance. Meanwhile, responsible small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees do so at a significantly high cost–as much as $24,000 per year for one small bike shop in Colorado with four employees.

Data published by the state of Massachusetts revealed that 4,327 Walmart employees— approximately one-quarter of its workforce — enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program or one of two other publicly subsidized health insurance programs, at a cost of $14.6 million a year to taxpayers. According to the report, Target has an even larger share of its workforce dependent on government health programs, with one-third of its employees enrolled in a program.

With superstores like Walmart and Target already cutting into their profits, it can be extremely difficult for small businesses to afford health insurance for employees. That’s why small businesses need our help more than ever.

Making your purchases at a small business pays off in a far greater way than spending your money at a chain. By supporting local small businesses, you’re helping to make it possible for their employees–your neighbors–to live and work without relying on government programs paid for by your taxes.

Towards a Localist Policy Agenda

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We need to use our political muscle as citizens to level the playing field and to make the job of growing local economies easier. We’re much more powerful as citizens than we are as consumers. Corporations know this, which is why they are always talking about us and positioning us as consumers, while weakening our authority as citizens. We need to reclaim our citizenship and start advancing change not just in terms of buying locally or even investing locally, but in joining with our friends and neighbors to remake public policy.

Eat your view

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“There’s a wonderful bumper sticker in Europe called ‘Eat your view.’ The premise is, if you don’t support these agricultural landscapes around you, they will be sprawled. They will be covered with houses and highways and shopping malls. And the way to keep them open is to eat from the farms that constitute that view.” -Michael Pollan

The store next door: On the rise of local markets

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The rise of shopping local is not a trend. At its core, it is an issue of community. It is about what a community needs and what a community does not realize it needs.

Check out this great article about the rise of local markets in Chicago. Shopping local doesn’t necessarily just mean purchasing from a neighborhood store–it’s a way of supporting the community and lowering the costs and environmental impact of purchasing an item from across the country or the globe.

“It is a mutually-beneficial experience. More than just faceless transactions, it is a way for customers to know more about the things they buy and business owners to know more about the people that want to buy their goods.”

4 Ways to Develop Effective E-mail Campaigns

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This great post from Independent We Stand explains how you can used integrated e-mail campaigns to easily and cost-effectively stay in touch with your small business’s customers and prospects. By setting goals for your campaigns, following up with automated, action-triggered e-mails, offering strategic promotions and personalized deals, and sending out a monthly newsletter to keep customers engaged year-round, you can develop customer trust, increase awareness of your business, and drive sales.

Why buying local is worth every cent

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If every family in the U.S. spent an extra $10 a month at a locally owned, independent business instead of a national chain, over $9.3 billion would be directly returned to our economy. This awesome infographic from CustomMade shows why buying local is worth the money.

CustomMade Buying Local Infographic

Vote with your dollars

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We have the potential to use our economic power and shift our support to businesses that provide quality jobs, respect the environment, and maintain the unique character of our communities. It is up to each of us to look deeply at ourself and our spending patterns to understand the impact of our economic actions. If we can do this collectively, we can leverage our full potential as economic citizens.

Lessons from Etsy: How to create a personal, memorable shopping experience

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Besides shopping at local merchants, I love to purchase gifts from independent artisans and merchants online at Etsy, a certified B Corporation. Anyone can set up an Etsy shop and sell their handmade or vintage items, giving you access to a great variety of items from people with diverse skills and backgrounds. And with Etsy Local, you can even search by location to find Etsy merchants in your hometown.

Shopping at Etsy reminds me of shopping at my favorite local boutiques because of the great variety and unique handmade goodies you can’t find at the larger chains. Over the past week, I’ve had two memorable experiences with Etsy shop owners that made me remember why it’s so much more enjoyable to purchase from real people, rather than large corporations.

I recently ordered two necklaces from an Etsy shop that was running a buy one, get one free promotion. Nine days later, I hadn’t received the items, but I had been busy and hadn’t really thought about it. However, the merchant I purchased the necklaces from went out of her way to send me an apologetic e-mail, explaining that she had been on vacation and hadn’t thought to check the shop to see if there were any orders. She quickly refunded the money I paid for shipping and mailed my order that day.

I never expected to hear from the owner, and I was pleasantly surprised that she cared enough to contact me. It had not been long since I placed the order, yet the woman seemed genuinely apologetic and upset that she had made me wait. Large corporations have shipping delays all the time, but I have never received an e-mail from Amazon.com apologizing for a late shipment, and no large online retailer has ever offered a refund for my trouble.

In a world where we’ve become accustomed to automated responses and the warning “DO NOT REPLY TO THIS E-MAIL,” witnessing a real human’s concern was refreshing. The owner was worried that I may have ordered the jewelry for an event, and she did not want me to miss the chance to wear it. Can you imagine someone from Overstock.com doing the same?

In addition to my jewelry order, I ordered a customized anniversary card for my boyfriend from another merchant. When I placed the order, it was only a week before my anniversary, so I was nervous it may not arrive on time. I sent a direct message to the owner on Etsy asking her if it would be possible to have it within a week, and she replied within five minutes (despite the fact that it was 1am) assuring me it would arrive on time. Sure enough, I received the card three days before my anniversary, along with a nice note wishing me a happy anniversary and a free gift I had not ordered – a beautiful, handmade Christmas card.

Once again, I was amazed at the level of service and attention I received from this merchant. I had spent only six dollars at her shop, yet she still took the time to write me a note and was generous enough to give me a gift. The only time I have received a gift from a large corporation was when I spent a significant amount, and it was some small, generic item that I can’t even remember. And I’ve certainly never been wished a happy anniversary on a handwritten note. Because of this merchant’s excellent service, I intend to purchase her cards for every special occasion.

My experiences with Etsy merchants show that small businesses don’t have to spend tons of money or extra time to create loyal customers. As a small business owner, all you have to do is show customers that you care – that you’re human too, and you understand their concerns and needs: the social, emotional, and financial. You’re not always going to be able to offer the lowest prices in town or the largest selection, but you can always offer a unique, positive, and personal experience.

What are you doing to cultivate customer loyalty?

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When was the last time you spent money or resources on making your customers feel appreciated? A focus on customer appreciation isn't just a best practice -- it could mean the difference between failure and survival in today's word-of-mouth driven economy.

Local & loving it

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“We’ve developed a culture based on buying things at the lowest possible price, shipping them all over the world. That culture’s not sustainable. We can’t just buy our way out of practicing community. This country was founded on community – people connecting with each other.”