The results are in and things are looking good for local businesses! Every year, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance conducts a survey of independent businesses across the nation to get a picture of how independent businesses are doing. This year's national survey of 2,602 independent businesses from all over America found that "Local First initiatives are boosting customer traffic and improving the outlook on Main Street, but policymakers need to do more to create a level playing field and ensure that small local businesses have an equal opportunity to compete." The results from the national survey can be found here.
Nearly 300 local and independent businesses in Arizona completed the survey, and they had some great things to say about the progress of the Buy Local movement here in the Grand Canyon state. Here are some of the key findings specifically for Arizona:
Nearly 70% of respondents said that Local First Arizona & the Buy Local campaign have had a positive impact on their business. We are glad that you are seeing the results of our years of campaigns, promotions, and outreach! One of the ways that survey responders said Local First Arizona has had a positive impact on their business is with their customer base. Nearly half of responders said that our efforts have brought new customers to their business, and some of these responders also said that there has been an increase in overall customer traffic to their business district. We are out in the community every day helping Arizonans find the local businesses in their neighborhoods, as 70% of responders recognized when they said that they believe that public awareness of the benefits of supporting local businesses has increased over last year. Our online directory is a great tool that thousands of Arizonans use to find the local businesses in their area, and many utilize our Small Wonders Maps to locate the unique treasures in our state. About 35% of responders also said that we have improved loyalty of existing customers, which we have done through our various campaigns and promotions throughout the year (such as Independents Week and Buy Local Month) to promote our members and enforce the Buy Local message.
Additionally, about 40% of survey responders said that our efforts have led to more collaboration, purchasing, and mutual support among local businesses. Through our seminars, workshops, networking events, and Local Work campaign, we are encouraging local businesses to support their neighbors whether they need office supplies, accounting services, janitorial services, or just about any other need or service. We have also helped to form many collaborations among local businesses that have helped drive event attendance, build community relationships, and provide unique marketing opportunities. Everyone wins when local supports local!
About half of responders also said that Local First Arizona has increased media coverage of independent businesses. We are constantly working with members of the media and local leaders across the state to make sure that the Buy Local message is heard. In 2013, Local First Arizona had over 500 media mentions in local and national publications, television appearances, radio programs, and other outlets. Many of these features included mentions of our local business members. Also, with our increased brand awareness, more and more Arizonans value the importance of supporting local businesses.
Finally, about a third of responders said that they know of the work we are doing to make city officials more aware and supportive of independent businesses. We work closely with many local leaders in cities across the state to help enact policies that support local businesses. Whether it's working with the Verde Valley to establish an award-winning campaign to feature the area as a prime tourism destination, or succeeding in encouraging the cities of Tucson and Phoenix to move large sums of their money into local banks and credit unions, many local leaders are now Local First Arizona allies and work with us on a regular basis to ensure the policies they are enacting support local businesses.
Although many local businesses seem to be doing better this past year (66% of responders said they reported an increase in annual sales in 2013), many Arizona businesses reported that they are still facing significant challenges to running their business. Among the highest-rated challenges include budgetary restraints, including being able to afford costly health insurance benefits and marketing costs. While Local First Arizona is not specifically a marketing company, we can help direct traffic to our business members through our online directory, which receives over 40,000 unique searches per month. Local First Arizona also has many business members who offer a wide range of marketing services, many of which can be affordable with the right terms.
Another major challenge is competition and extremely discounted pricing from large internet companies. We continue to advocate for and support the Marketplace Fairness Act and hope that the U.S. Congress can find the means to pass this important legislation.
Some responders also cited difficulty in obtaining loans or financing as a challenge. We have been working to solve this challenge by encouraging support of our local banks and credit unions. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, "although small and mid-sized banks control less than one-quarter of all bank assets, they account for more than half of all small business lending." When we support our local banks and credit unions, they have even more resources to make small business loans to Arizona's local business community.
Thanks to all of the Local First Arizona members who participated in this year's survey. These results are extremely helpful in focusing our programs and campaigns, as we want to make sure we are helping our local business members to the best of our ability.