This is a rather lengthy response to Richard Laymans blog entry: “Why people don’t buy local on his blog Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space. (I found the blog through @rolandovich, the amazing multi-blog digester).

(disclosure: I’m a small retail store owner in Olympia, WA)
Yeah, it’s fair to point out the negative sides and limitations of small retailers. And the guilt-tripping and appealing too people’s civic duty really bugs me.

But let’s not just create another blog entry that points fingers and focuses on the surface.
Most buy-local campaigns are not run by retailers, but by non-profit organizations that truly believe that their effort is doing good for the local community.
Business owners get encouraged to participate (I’m mean, how dare you not participate in a campaign that is offering to drive business to your door?)

Most people who own small businesses are in it for the love of the customer interaction and the love for the product or service they sell.
Marketing is the one area we all can use a bit, or alot of help.
We’ve created a marketplace that is soley focused on branding and a persuasive marketing message.
Even you succumbed to it, as you only focused on the marketing message, rather than the product.
It’s a world where you can passively look into a situation without having to submerge yourself and truly understand and learn.

In a corpoation and big-box retailer dominated world a small retailer has only a few choise to compete.

On price, hardly cause often the small retailers product is vastly superior in quality, demanding a understandilby higher price.
On perceived service: okay, if you consider returns, long opening hours and financing the only measurables, the corporations win.
But have you looked at product knowledge, custom-tailoring the store experience and product selection to a specific market?
I recycle my packaging material, do special orders, listen to product requests and am able to respond.
On location: I win. I’m in an urban core, enhancing walkable space, engage with my immediate community – where is my award?

So, really we have the better product, the better store experience and the better service.
We just need marketing help to change the perception of people’s mind. But there is no reason for the small retailer not to succeed.

Often blogs like yours point to all the small retailers that close shop after decades.
Have you ever considered, that a small retail business, as much as a loved community stable, is meant to support the owner, and if he retires it’s alot easier to close shop then trying to sell. Especially in an inflated commercial real-estate market, when decade long shop owners might even own the store front. They ofetn get more money selling the space then selling the business. Look at Ballard, WA. Most little cute scandinavian shops have closed, but not just because of corporate pressure, but because the people retired and the younger generations is more into cupcakes than lutefisk.
Even in the corporate world, the transition from entrepeneur to CEO if often fatal. Look at Starbucks.

So, please, gives us ideas on how we can market the advantages rather than focusing on the negatives.
This applies to small business as well as urban cores, unless it’s easier to point fingers.