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Shoppers Disagree on What it Means to “Buy Local”

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Shoppers Disagree on What it Means to “Buy Local”Info
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As fevered as people are about their love for Ohio and Columbus, a poll posted by Columbus Underground and related research revealed that many aren’t sure how to show their support for local businesses, or even what makes a business “local.”

The survey asked readers what they look for when shopping locally and what criteria a business needs to meet before they’re considered truly local.

shop-local-01Respondents generally agreed that if a business is owned by Columbusites and was founded here, it’s on its way to being local. But there were varying answers when it came to defining what percentage of the business’ products need to be locally sourced and also how many locations it should be limited to before it moves from “local” to “chain.”

Roughly half of those who answered said that if a business has more than five locations, it’s a chain — quite a high standard. Still, 90 percent said even if the business opens enough locations to be considered a chain, they aren’t likely to stop going. A quarter said it doesn’t matter how many locations there are as long as they’re all in Columbus or Central Ohio.

“We have three brick and mortars. We have a couple pop ups. We’re also inside music venues, and we have three trucks,” said Jason Biundo, Co-Founder and CCO for Mikey’s Late Night Slice. “We operate mainly local, but, I mean, the trucks go out of state for some events. It seems, to me, like picking a number is kind of arbitrary.”

In a way, it is. Chuck Lynd, Chair of the Support Our Local Economy Coalition (SOLE), said a business can have anywhere between six and 10 locations and still be considered local, but the main standard is that it’s locally owned.

“The survey clearly shows that the great majority of consumers want to buy local,” Lynd said. “The survey also documents the obstacles and really shows some confusion about what’s local and what’s not. It’s not surprising when you consider that the chains have been grabbing market share for decades.”

Lynd cited a national survey from 2011 that found Columbus to be one of the lowest ranking statistical metro areas (350 out of 363) when it came to the presence of local indie retailers in the market. Chains are hugely successful in the midwest and rust belt states, he said, with 65 percent of the market being controlled by national chains compared to the national average of 50 percent.

That means people in the midwest are more likely to come across a Chipotle when they’re hungry than a locally owned burrito shop. Unless people are making the conscious effort to seek out independent retailers, chains are chosen routinely out of convenience.

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This is reflected in another related research study that found that the small business share of the retail market in Columbus was under a quarter compared to the national average of 32 percent. The numbers get smaller away from the city’s core by about 10 to 15 percentage points.

SOLE’s own research determined that just a 10 percent shift from chain to local would keep over $300 million within the local economy and create 5,000 jobs in Franklin County.

So really, any locally owned business that contributes to the local economy can wipe their brow. They’re local. And as far as how much of what they sell should be locally sourced, the standards vary.

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About half of a restaurant’s goods should be from central Ohio compared to 5-10 percent for a retail store, Lynd said. And even though RDP, the food supplier for Mikey’s Late Night Slice, might not get all of its materials from central Ohio sources, RDP is owned and operated here, so they’re still contributing to the central Ohio economy.

Biundo puts it a little more eloquently:

“Our goal is that we want to be recognized, we want to grow, and the sky’s the limit,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay a small — like a one or two shop operation — and just do what you do.”

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