Jeff Ackerman: Shop locally, ensure quality lifestyle |

Jeff Ackerman: Shop locally, ensure quality lifestyle

As the Grass Valley/Nevada County chamber’s new board chairman and publisher of this newspaper, I have a vested interest in seeing our community of mostly small businesses succeed.

I’m not alone. Every single citizen of this rural slice of paradise we call western Nevada County ought to feel the same sense of urgency as more and more retail money leaves the hill for Sacramento, Roseville, Marysville and the World Wide Web. An estimated 37 cents of every shopping dollar is now spent out of our market, according to our recent Pulse research. If the trend continues, we will finally be that “Bedroom Community” some would actually like us to be.

Why should we care? For starters, there are more than 300 nonprofit organizations that primarily depend upon local businesses for support. Not a day passes when a business owner isn’t asked for money or goods to support local theater, music, Little League, art, schools, drug prevention programs, or myriad other community causes. Under difficult economic conditions, those are the first cuts a business must make as it struggles to meet payroll (with benefits), rent, rising utility costs and taxes.

And those sales taxes also finance our government infrastructure, pouring money into general funds for roads, police protection, etc., a point some municipalities need to remember as they continue to make it more difficult to do business here.

A quality community must have strong social, environmental and economic features. One, or two, out of three won’t cut it. In fact, I’d suggest that a strong economy is the foundation of a quality community.

Why is 37 percent of the shopping money slipping through our fingers? According to our research, it’s not just price. In most cases, shoppers don’t even know the items or services they are looking for are available here.

Convenience is also a factor. Life is no longer 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Many of our local business owners need to review their hours of operation to ensure the hours work best for the customers, not themselves. The Internet allows you to shop whenever you like and from the comfort of your own home or work desk. Many businesses operate “inside/out,” failing to put the customer’s schedule, or needs, first.

Unfortunately, not a single penny from an Internet transaction returns to our community. Nor does the money spent at Wal-Mart, or Costco, or Sam’s Club, or myriad other Big Box stores down the hill.

Customer service is also critical to any shopping decision and, frankly, we can all improve in that area. Most of the time it’s as simple as making sure your employees are empowered to solve a customer’s problem. A good friend and business manager in town told me last week that the goal of her company is to get to a “yes” when it comes to customers. “We need to remove all the obstacles that get in the way of answering every customer demand with a simple ‘yes,'” she advised.

One national high-end retailer has only one rule for its employees: “Use good judgment in all situations.”

Most know what “good judgment” is when they run across it, but how many of us practice it? How many of us have been in shops or restaurants where we’ve been treated to less than acceptable service or poor judgment? I was at a restaurant a couple of weeks back and sat for 15 minutes before I was even offered a glass of water. I stood at a checkout line for 15 minutes while the overwhelmed clerk pleaded without success over the loudspeaker for some help. She finally turned to those of us in line and said, “This place sucks, doesn’t it?”

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to attracting and keeping local shoppers.

The shopping survey, however, points to nothing but opportunities, once our local business community really understands what our customers want, when our customers want it, and what it’s going to take to keep them shopping on the hill.

And some of that information is a little scary. An estimated 1,700 of you, for example, indicated you were in the immediate market for some new brakes. Another 8,000 of you said you needed new windshield wipers, which means I don’t want to be anywhere near Highway 49 on the next rainy day.

It also appears, at least according to the shopping survey, that we spend more money on our pets ($95) every month than we do on fast food ($69). And, interestingly, cat owners outnumber dog owners, which indicates there might be a great business opportunity for some feline fancier. How about a fast food joint for cats and dogs?

As you make your shopping plans, I really encourage you to consider the benefits of shopping local. It’s an old and perhaps tired cliché, but it really is an important one in terms of ensuring that we can continue to provide the quality of life all of us moved here to enjoy.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears every Tuesday.

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