Calling Indiana Manufacturers: Let's Work Together to Feed our Local Economy

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***Note: much of this post stems information published in this article from Moz. It lit a fire under me. Moz rocks.***

Quick introduction: My grandfather founded our company in 1952 and we've been in Indianapolis ever since. We've had thousands of Indiana residents contribute to the growth of the company - customers, suppliers, and employees.

We've seen politicians come and go, we've seen the Colts move here from Baltimore, we've introduced friends and colleagues to the Indy 500, we endured the Blizzard of '78, we've seen and enjoyed the benefit of the growth of Indy restaurateurs, we've had ups and we've had downs. Simply put, without Indianapolis and the people who live here, we don't exist as a business.

But, did you know that Indianapolis works better because we're a business?

Let me explain.

Small Businesses Seriously Help the Local Economy.

Civic Economics did a study on the percentage of revenue that businesses return to the community - national chains versus independent retailers. Sadly, they didn't conduct the study in Indianapolis, but here are a few summaries from some nearby cities.

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You get the idea? National Chains, like clockwork, only put 13.6% of their revenue back to the community where they're located. Independent Businesses on the other hand, put between 44-55% back into the local market! 

That means if a small business hits $1,000,000 in sales, about $500,000 goes straight to the community. A national chain would have to bring over 3.5x the revenue to match the same dollars.

Conversely, the Growth of National Chains Actually Hurts the Local Economy.

Now, bear with me on this one. I love the ease of Amazon (I'm certainly a Prime member), Costco is a wonder, Target is fun, etc. My point here is not to paint National Chains as monsters who are ruining small towns. Rather, I simply aim to illustrate the impact that local communities are experiencing as a result of the growth of these sorts of chains.

Candidly, these images scare me. They're from another Civic Economics study from 2016.

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Here's the summary. 

  1. Amazon sold $133 billion in retail goods in 2016. It resulted in 44,000 shops across the US going out of business.
  2. Good news: Amazon added 137,000 jobs in 2016. Bad news: It resulted in 637,000 other displaced retail jobs.
  3. In three years, the total displaced shops is over 100,000 and the individual jobs displacement is nearly 1.5 million. Whoa.

Fortunately, this study included Indiana, so let's get a little more personal.

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Based on the recent Supreme Court ruling, the uncollected sales taxes should improve. Even though that means we individually have to pay 7% sales tax on our purchases, it also means over $60 million comes back into the community. That's actually really good news in the long run.

But still, I prefer to focus on the business and job impact. In the case of Hoosiers, $2.4 billion in Amazon sales meant almost 800 lost shops in our state, and a difference of over 2,000 jobs that were lost.

So what can Indiana Manufacturers do?

What we can't do is try to compete head to head with National Chains. They have more money. They have more people. So what, then?

Unite.

I mean it. According to Miriam Ellis, who wrote the initial Moz blog that spurred my writing of this blog:

A single independent business lacks the resources and clout... but if the family running the small grocery store join together with the folks running the bakery, the community credit union, the animal shelter, and the bookstore... then they begin to have a stronger voice.
— Miriam Ellis, MOZ

.What I'm suggesting isn't ground breaking. There are plenty of Buy Local promotional groups, and candidly we love them all.

Keep Indy Indie focuses on promoting local artists, restaurants, and businesses through some really impressive photography.

Indiana Originals, who we partner with, also works to promote local business and shares our vision to create great jobs in the community.

I'm sure there's some I don't know about.

But here's what I'm suggesting that is different: an alliance of Indiana companies who MAKE a product, PROVIDE jobs in order to make that product, and SELL that product to benefit the community in which they're located. I'm not just suggesting a large group of Indiana business trying to preach to their local community that local business are cool.

Local Manufacturers do the following:

  1. Make a product that provides a benefit to fill a need of an individual.
  2. Create quality jobs and meaningful work for people in their area.
  3. Care about leveraging their business to build community and character.
  4. Love the challenge of competing with big businesses.

Local Alliances CAN Work for Both Businesses and Residents.

Author, and founder of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), Jeff Milchen, says, "It's a great investment for independent businesses to partner with other independents, to do things they can't do individually. Forming these partnerships can help them compete with the online giants."

Okay. so what exactly can an alliance do that companies can't do individually.

Exactly HOW does an partnership with other companies help to compete with online giants?

1. It creates what Ellis calls a "Hyperlocalized Content Powerhouse."

Local companies have advantages over bigger brands. Notably, we can develop relationships with customers that they can't. We know customer's needs at a different level because we actually see them and talk to them. We can write about that. We can get personal and build community that national brands cannot match.

Doing all of that together simply compounds the reach and affect. It can connect across different networks and build diversity. And it's real! It's not just a marketing campaign.

2. Link Building!

Anyone who does any form of SEO work knows the importance, and often the difficulty, in link building. An alliance creates a built in network of consistent collaboration and support to help each other with outreach.

3. Build Community Sentiment

Did you know that 30% of consumers say they'd buy from a local store instead of online IF THEY KNEW the store was nearby (Google)? Or that 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition (Bright Local)?

Independent, small business form strong business-to-community bonds. As an alliance, those bonds multiply, and accountability within the group to truly know their customers becomes organic.

Online reviews are so much easier to acquire when you actually know the person!

What's the Call to Action?

If any of my ramblings have sparked some thoughts and actions, I want to hear about them. Email me or comment below.

My hope is to create a group of companies in Central Indiana who care about their communities, care about their employees, care about providing a true benefit to their customers, and are anxious to work together with friends to compete in their industries.

Are you up for it?

If so, I look forward to hearing from you.