Community Saves Business (& Other Local Success Stories)

February 1, 2012 By

What Groupon nearly destroyed, a local community saved. And the Internet was the key to both.

 

It was a typical Groupon tragedy that befell the Food For All Market, a Mt. Airy, PA store catering to clients with food allergies. From Philly.com:

 

 By August, Kunkle realized her campaign had been a mistake. She had hoped the coupons would add to her regular clientele, and that people would spend more than the $30 coupon’s face value.

“That’s not what happened,” she said. “It was really people in it for the deal who were not coming back.”

Kunkle said Groupon’s sales rep didn’t mention that she could cap the number of coupons she sold, which would have at least stemmed her losses. (Groupon did not return phone calls Thursday.)

 

Kunkle estimated she lost around $10,000 from the deal, and struggled to make it through the fall. When she notified her social media and email lists that she would have to close, the magic began to happen.

 

“About two dozen customers have basically made me low-interest loans, so that we can restructure our loans, restock, and move forward,” she said.

Some have volunteered time and talent. A celiac disease sufferer who can’t eat wheat products is now Kunkle’s volunteer financial adviser. Others have offered to pitch in any way they can, even by helping scrub floors.

 

That connection between community and company, between customer and investor, has aligned everyone’s incentives for the long-term good of both the business and its stakeholders.

 

A similar situation recently took place in North Carolina, where a co-op grocery found salvation in its’ own community.  Staring down a $300,000 balloon payment, Chatham Marketplace was quickly running out of options, until Slow Money NC stepped in. From Sustainable Grub:

 

 Carol [Hewitt] and Slow Money co-founder Lyle Estill began crunching the numbers. They would need to find 16 individuals willing to loan $25k each at a 4.5% interest rate. Each lender would receive equal monthly payments over an eight-year period, and the loan would then be retired.

Slow Money NC would help them aggregate their funds into one pool that could be managed centrally. That’s when Bringing It Home Chatham LLC was formed.

 

The local investors covered the loan, reduced the current interest rate, and prevented Chatham Marketplace’s demise. For the investors, it was a chance to put their money where their mouths were (literally), and to benefit in many ways from the long-term success of the co-op.

 

Expect to hear stories like this emerge from all corners of the country as investors tire of the global finance casino and attempt to get more meaning from their investments in local business. Investing locally allows people to enhance local economies and maintain the individuality of unique towns, neighborhoods and villages. As a backlash to the faceless miles of chain stores and Wal-Marts that can make one town look exactly like the next, the call to “buy local” is ringing louder and louder as we emerge from the economic doldrums.

 

In fact, a just-published annual survey by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that independent businesses had strong sales growth over the holidays and appear to be benefitting from growing public interest in supporting locally owned retail stores, banks, restaurants, and other enterprises.

 

Among the key findings:

  • Independent retailers, which comprised about half the survey respondents, reported stronger holiday sales than the industry average. While overall holiday sales were up 4.1% in 2011, the independent retailers surveyed said their holiday sales increased 6.7% on average.
  • More than three-quarters of the businesses surveyed said that public awareness of the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses had increased in the last year.

 

Buying local pays dividends far beyond the simple economic transaction. No one’s asking for people to spend 100% of their dollars locally or invest 100% of their portfolio in local businesses. But what if everyone tried to shift 10% of their spending and investing into local enterprises. I assure you the results would be staggering.

 

Photo: amagill, via flickr

 

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    Dave Burris provides Internet solutions like WordPress websites, social media training and email marketing for locally-owned, independent small businesses. Learn more about Dave and his company, Burris Digital, at DaveBurris.com.

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