Three Times $50

Posted on Sep 1, 2009 :: Features
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Gail Giese of Dinner Helpers and Al Lautenslager

Buy local. Those two little words are gaining traction with consumers as more shoppers are thinking about where the stuff they buy is coming from. While some shoppers are focused more on the “green” aspect of buying local – items produced locally create a smaller carbon footprint – others see how buying local provides an economic shot-in-the-arm to a community.

That’s the thinking behind the 3/50 Project, which is gaining traction in the Fox Valley thanks to a trio of business owners enrolled in a custom Pro-Seed class focused on marketing at Fox Valley Technical College.

Andrea Hogan, the owner of Home Things, a small Grand Chute retail shop, first became aware of the 3/50 Project while surfing the Internet. She read a blog by Cinda Baxter, a former small business owner in Minnesota that presented a simple idea: If half of the employed U.S. population each spent $50 a month with local, independent businesses, it would generate nearly $43 billion. Baxter then threw out two other statistics: $68 stays within a community for every $100 spent with an independent business while only $43 of that same $100 stays in a community if spent at a national retailer. If that $100 is spent online, nothing comes back to the community.

“It really caught my eye that by spending money with local bricks-and-mortar businesses we can keep more dollars here in our community,” says Hogan. “Small businesses are vital and key to our community. We need to do what we can to help them thrive.”

Hogan shared her thoughts with classmates Gail Giese, owner of Dinner Helpers in Appleton, and Cindy Glatz, co-owner of Heavy Critters, a concrete statuary business in Oshkosh. The trio – under the guidance of their course instructor, Al Lautenslager, a marketing author, speaker and consultant – decided to bring the 3/50 Project to the region.

“The emphasis of the 3/50 Project is to keep money in the local economy and to communicate why it’s important to keep money in the local economy rather than spending it at a retailer who then sends it somewhere else,” Lautenslager says. “Small businesses need every tool they can and this is a great marketing tool to tie into.”

Hogan says the key is to now spread the word about the 3/50 Project and get businesses and consumers involved. She not only tells customers who come into her Casaloma Drive shop about the program, she also hands out flyers and cards and asks them to spread the word.

“It’s a very grassroots campaign. I’m telling my customers, neighbors and anyone who will listen about it,” she says. “The challenge isn’t really to get the people coming into my store to become involved; the challenge is to get people who never shop in a local store interested in the program.”

Giese is informing the customers at her meal preparation company about the 3/50 Project and directing them to Baxter’s website, www.the350project.net.

“It’s nice that those I tell really want to support local businesses, especially when they find out how much of their local purchases stay in the community,” she says.

Word about the 3/50 Project is also being spread via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, Lautenslager says. “It’s getting more buzz there. This is really a national movement and it’s great that it’s come to the Fox Valley,” he says.

Purchases don’t need to be major, Hogan says. For example, shoppers can choose to buy a greeting card or gift at a locally-owned shop rather than a national retailer.

“More of the money being spent at that store is staying in our community,” she says. “Just think if everyone did this what a change it could make for our local economy.”

When thinking about those local businesses, remember service providers such as drycleaners, florists and others, Hagan says. “It’s not just about retailers and restaurants. All locally-owned businesses benefit,” she says.

For the 3/50 Project to be truly successful, it will need buy-in from the local business community, Lautenslager says.

“It’s great to have businesses get this started, but for it to really find its legs and succeed, we’ll need to draw the attention of an economic development group to help us spread the word and encourage it,” he says. “The real challenge for everyone involved is to get the word out about Project 3/50 and how it can help our local economy.”