[pullquote](Local residents) should buy local because it creates jobs for their friends and neighbors, it keeps money circulating locally…[/pullquote]Business owners say they’ve reaped the benefits of a strengthening economy and a push to get local residents to support businesses in their own backyard.
The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce has been one of the organizations pushing consumers to patronize local businesses with its decade-old “Buy Local” campaign, which has been touted in advertisements, via social media and at Chamber events. The campaign also works to find local vendors for the companies affiliated with the Chamber’s dozens of board members. Last year, the campaign has broadened to encourage the purchase of both local goods and services and adopted a new slogan: “Think! Local First.”
In 2011, the Chamber began promoting Small Business Saturday, which encourages consumers to frequent locally-owned businesses the day after Black Friday.
“(Local residents) should buy local because it creates jobs for their friends and neighbors, it keeps money circulating locally,” said Chamber President Gayle Anderson.
Anderson said that the Chamber’s campaign encourages any kind of local buying, not just from small businesses, as an alternative to purchasing items via the Internet.
While major retailers are sulking after holiday sales were far below predictions, local business owners say they were encouraged by the amount of support they received.
Dana Suggs, owner of the Trade Street cultural gift store Body and Soul, called the amount of business she received the Friday before Christmas “phenomenal” and “overwhelming,” so much so that she said she wanted to shed tears of joy.
“It was like the whole village came downtown to Body and Soul,” said Suggs. “We had long lines, but there was no problem; no one was upset that they had to wait in a line. It was just like a lovefest; that’s why I felt like I wanted to cry.”
Suggs said the holiday rush topped off a good year that saw the store meet its sales goals every week. While the economic downturn made the store’s most expensive items – its handmade African art – less popular with shoppers, the shop’s inexpensive signature items like jewelry, skin care products and books flew off the shelves.
Suggs, a New York native and former Madison Avenue exec, uses her marketing and advertising background to make Body and Soul stand out. The shop’s walls are brightly-colored and rhythmic international music is in heavy rotation. Suggs says in order to compete with the mall and the Internet, she has to give her customers a memorable, feel-good experience.
Seemingly, it is paying off. Suggs reported strong sales on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. Some customers even made it a point to stop by Body and Soul on Small Business Saturday.
“(For) a lot of customers, that was their mission that day: ‘I have to get down to Body and Soul because I want to support them on Small Business Saturday, and that was very heart touching too,” said Suggs.
Sharon Debnam co-owner of Popcorn Fanatic, a specialty snack shop in Silas Creek Crossing on Hanes Mall Boulevard, had good news to report as well.
“The doors swing back and forth just like this,” said Debnam, referring to the steady stream of customers that formed a line in the shop last week. “Which is a beautiful thing by the way, because we’d like to continue to be here serving the community.”
Popcorn Fanatic got into the holiday spirit by offering a number of specialty, seasonal popcorn favorites like eggnog, candy cane, ginger bread and pumpkin spice. The shop also offered popcorn in holiday-themed three-tiered boxes, bags and tins. Popcorn in NFL tins were also hot holiday sellers.
While there are a lot of places – locally and online – that sell popcorn, Debnam said other retailers can’t match the personal touch that Popcorn Fanatic offers or its freshly-popped gourmet popcorn in unique flavors. Support from the community was so strong in 2012 that Debnam said she and partner Sherri Debnam (her sister-in-law) plan to open a second location this year.
“I think people want to support their local businesses so they can continue to be around,” said Debnam.
It was also a good year at 6th Sense Health and Wellness, which provides services like massages, acupuncture and nutrition counseling at its Brookstown Avenue location. Owner Nike Roach said he’s seen the return of individual and corporate clients who stopped coming once the economy went south. The upswing in business has allowed him to open a second by-appointment-only location at the Gateway YWCA.
Roach said a growing awareness of the importance of good health, word of mouth, an increased use of online tools to connect with clients and growing consumer confidence have all been factors in his success. The Chamber Board member also believes that the “Think! Local First” and the Chamber’s BUS (Businesses United for Schools) Stop Program – which offers discounts to teachers at local businesses – has played a big part in helping improve the economic forecasts of local businesses.
Though Roach competes for clients with national massage chains, he believes he has an advantage because local people are taking greater pride in supporting local businesses.
“6th Sense is born, bred and sustained in the Triad,” he said.
The past holiday season was an anomaly for 6th Sense. Usually Roach sells plenty of gift certificates, but has few massage appointments in November and December. He was booked solid last year, though. The business even recieved requests for appointments on Sundays and Christmas Day, when 6th Sense is closed.