I know. We’re supposed to be mean, lean business machines of efficiency – especially in these soft economic times. And yet, we have traveled the path less recommended and so far have been rewarded for it. No layoffs, no pay cuts for staff, no reduction in inventory. The result? Our best year ever in 2009. Go figure.
Well, I’ll try. I think these little independent businesses that hang their shingles in neighborhood business districts (hopefully you still have these where you live) benefit tremendously from altruism in their operations. If you support your local community, its schools and community and religious centers, you’ll get “The Love” back – as long as you also provide value in your products and services.
This may be especially true here in Portland, where there is an established “Buy Local” campaign, but I suspect it holds true in other areas as well.
Last year, Thinker Toys supported over 90 auctions, nonprofit causes and events, nearly all of which were local in nature. And I can’t help but think the stability of our biz is due in part to the goodwill that generated. Maybe it’s a spin on the Field of Dreams mantra: if you give, they will come.
Another thing we’ve been very invested in for years is our local business association. Joan in particular spends hundreds of hours each year with this sometimes cumbersome organization and the planning, meetings and team-building it takes. There’s no way it “pencils out” as a rational time expenditure. And there will always be a bunch of “free riders” who neither spend the relative pittance it takes to become members nor invest their time enhancing their local business district. But you might be surprised how many customers keep some track – in some recess of their brain – of which businesses are actively involved in improving the local area. And that’s where they shop, when they can.
Something else we do is try to find products we’re out of or don’t carry at other area stores (aka our “competitors”). Portland is blessed with a wealth of good, locally-owned toy and book stores, and we’re happy to call any of them to try to help somebody locate what they’re looking for. And sometimes that means telling them the only place they’re likely to find a particular item is at one of the charming big box stores, not-surprisingly located almost universally outside the steep tax obligations of Portland and Multnomah County. (More on that later?)
And so … I encourage those of you who run similar retail operations to consider donating your time and your products to support your local community, as I think this altruism is ultimately, well, in your best interests, too. And if you’re deciding where to shop…well, I’ll let you anticipate my thoughts here.