I have an idea.
Actually, I’ve had this idea for a long time, but now seems like the perfect time to implement it.
It’s time to buy local. And not just in general. I want Milwaukeeans to buy exclusively from Milwaukee area companies. For one year. I’m calling it #MKE12.
I own House of Harley-Davidson, but this isn’t about selling motorcycles. This is about recognizing the money we spend leaves our state when we buy from Amazon or Wal-Mart. It’s about keeping the money here, even if it costs a few more bucks to do so.
The American Independent Business Alliance calls this the "local economic multiple effect," meaning buying local creates more Milwaukee wealth and more Milwaukee jobs. It also assists with county and state budgets and infrastructure, thus reducing the burden on our property taxes.
They point to three factors on how this works: direct impact (local businesses spend money on local employees); indirect impact (local businesses spend money with other local businesses); and induced impact (employees, in turn, spend their income on local businesses, too).
The private research firm Civic Economics found that 48 percent of each purchase at local independent businesses was recirculated locally, compared to less than 14 percent of purchases at chain stores. And online stores don't pay real estate taxes or employ any locals. While sales tax is now being collected on online purchases, the post office is contemplating rate increases for shipping and returns. The cost advantages of online purchases are diminishing rapidly.
Bottom line: independent retailers return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales than chain competitors.
But what about companies like Amazon that have a Wisconsin presence? Buying remotely online creates almost no local benefit – just a few minutes’ work for a delivery person. I’m not even saying we should boycott Amazon, but do we really need to buy all our groceries and disposable items there? Probably not.
Would we rather have numerous local causes or our Little League team sponsored by a local business, or should our money go to pay for Jeff Bezos’ alimony payments? Amazon has provided many local jobs, and hats off to them for that; but from a corporate perspective most of their revenue leaves the state, and they won’t miss orders from Milwaukee residents for one year.
And, when it comes to buying at big box stores, a group in New Orleans commissioned Civic Economics to evaluate economic return per square foot of retail space used by both local merchants and Target Corporation. The local merchants studied generated twice as much sales activity per square foot and nearly quadrupled the local economic return per square foot compared to projections for Target.
How do I practice this in real life?
Dog food. I used to get my dog food on Amazon or Petco. Now I shop at Pet Supplies Plus – a local franchisee. I buy the brand Stella & Chewy’s, another Oak Creek company. The experience is better, the quality is better. And I’m happier to support my fellow business owners (my dogs seem happier, too). If there’s something your local store doesn’t have, ask them if they can get it. You might be surprised with their answer.
I eat burgers at Point Burger Bar. I drink beer at Explorium Brew Pub. I buy mattresses and furniture at Steinhafels or Colders. I do all my grocery shopping at Sendik’s. I support people buying jewelry at local shops like Kessler’s Diamonds. I rode a Harley even before I bought the dealership, and of course, I support OnMilwaukee over Google AdWords or Facebook.
It’s not always the cheapest route, but it’s not as expensive as you might think, either. I realize there are going to be some things that simply don't make sense to get locally, but I think most of us could move a large percentage of our spending to local businesses. What if just half of us moved half of our spending back to Wisconsin? It would make a difference.
Can we afford to add a larger tip to our barber, our restaurant server? Can we afford to go to get new memberships at a local gym like Wisconsin Athletic Club or Fuel Fitness? Are those more expensive – or is it actually less expensive considering those dollars will stay in our local economy?
Bottom line: I did it, and you can, too. Clearly, during the time of coronavirus, some local options are difficult to choose, but when we come out the other side, there’s an opening to change the way we shop.
That’s why on April 14, Milwaukee Day, I’m making it my personal mission to spearhead #MKE12. Please share your stories by posting this on social media. Tell me about local businesses that need our support.
Watch this space for more tips on how to live a local life for 12 months. Milwaukee needs all of us to step up right now. Together, we can make it happen. We are, most definitely, in this together.