More holiday shoppers deliberately sought out locally owned businesses this year, according to a national survey of more than 1,800 independent businesses.
The survey found that holiday sales for independent retailers were up an average of 2.2 percent. That contrasts with the Commerce Department figures released today, which show that overall retail sales were down 0.3 percent in December and up 1.8 percent in November.
The survey also found that for the third year in a row independent retailers in cities with active "Buy Local" or "Think Local First" campaigns reported stronger holiday sales than those in cities without such campaigns. These campaigns have been launched by local business alliances in more than 100 cities and towns. Independent retailers in these cities reported an average increase in holiday sales of 3.0 percent, compared to 1.0 percent for those in cities without an active Buy Local initiative.
Nearly 80 percent of those business owners surveyed said public awareness of the value of choosing locally owned businesses had increased in the last year (16 percent said it had stayed the same).
A bookstore owner in Oregon said that the growing public awareness and support for independent businesses "has been critical to our ability to stay in business during down economic times."
"The buzz about buying local was louder among my customers this year than any other year," said a shoe store owner in Michigan.
A retailer in Maine added, "We've had many customers say they are making a real effort to 'Buy Local' this year. A number of customers said they saw an item at a chain store or online, and came back to us to purchase it."
The survey was conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit research organization, in partnership with several business organizations, including the American Booksellers Association, American Independent Business Alliance, American Specialty Toy Retailers Association, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and National Bicycle Dealers Association.
Similar surveys conducted by ILSR in 2009 and 2008 also found that independent businesses in cities with Buy Local campaigns reported stronger sales than those in communities without such an initiative.
"It is extremely encouraging to see -- even in this very challenging economic climate -- that, for the third year in a row, independent retailers in communities with active shop local campaigns have outperformed retailers in cities and towns without such campaigns," said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. "This significant trend is the result of hard work and innovative management, and this survey demonstrates how important a Buy Local/Local First campaign is in helping indie businesses achieve greater sales. This insight regarding consumers' preferences is consistent with what we have seen since the launch of IndieBound in 2008. Shoppers value authenticity, they want to connect with and to strengthen their communities, and they recognize that bigger is not always better. Because of that, we believe this is a time of great potential for locally owned businesses that are committed to working together."
"This survey adds to the growing body of evidence that people are increasingly bypassing big business in favor of local entrepreneurs," said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "Amid the worst downtown in more than 60 years, independent businesses are managing to succeed by emphasizing their community roots and local ownership."
"These results reinforce what we've heard from our local affiliates -- that their campaigns are yielding real dividends and shifting local spending," said Jennifer Rockne, director of the American Independent Business Alliance. "That's good news for their local economies. Studies show that small businesses keep more dollars circulating locally and generate the majority of new jobs."
"For the third year in a row, this study demonstrates the bottom-line impact of local business alliances running Think Local First campaigns," said Michelle Long, executive director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. "Local entrepreneurs are the bedrock of the U.S. economy and, when they work together, they make our communities more resilient, unique, and rewarding places to live."