Proximity makes the heart grow fonder

Proximity makes the heart grow fonder

Buying local can mean more than a reduction in mileage for both consumers and businesses within a B2B value chain.

My Saturdays often start with a trip to the farmer’s market in downtown Knoxville. There are candle makers, scarf weavers and wood carvers (just to name a few) in booths amongst the produce, jam and bread sellers. I wander in circles, basking in the communal warm fuzziness and sipping a locally brewed cup of coffee (I do admit that I look for the cheapest variety).

Farmers markets have been springing up like dandelions – there were 8,144 listed in the USDA’s directory in 2013. They’ve multiplied alongside E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, heightened interest in “natural” and organic – and a focus on the local after decades of rapid globalization.

In fact, almost a third of respondents for Shelton Group’s Eco Pulse 2013 said they purchase food locally/seasonally through a co-op or a farmer’s market. They also said that, in order to positively influence their purchase choices, companies should prioritize “buying from local farmers/suppliers” over “making products with recycled content,” which is a much more widespread message.

A growing number of Americans like the idea of “buying local” – but what does that mean? “Local” is a shadowy term – it’s relative to the buyer, it’s not just a physical distance, and, particularly in the B2B space, it offers some untapped potential.

The measurements
There is not a standard radius for what counts as local. When it comes to local foods, the USDA recommends 400 miles. Chipotle, a restaurant chain that’s dedicated its efforts to sourcing fresh, local and organic foods explains why they aim for sources within 350 miles of each restaurant. Walmart doesn’t state a distance in its commitment to supporting local economies and agriculture.

Hartman Group published a survey back in 2008 called “Consumer Understanding of Buying Local” that offered a look at the many meanings and drivers behind “local.” According to the survey, half of consumers defined “local product” as originating within 100 miles of their homes. Thirty-seven percent thought “local” shared their state’s borders. Only 4 percent associated “local” with “Made in the U.S.A” or regional terms.

The motivations
If you Google “local source” or “local product,” you’ll get pages and pages of farmers market listings, followed by restaurants, followed by local governments. Fresh produce is clearly up front in consumer thinking on this topic. And, as you can see from the examples of distances I provided above, the food industry is the one talking most about local.

There’s a belief (though not always accurate) that local food is healthier and more natural. Simply polling friends and family about what a “local product” is generates mostly food-related answers, like “it’s more natural” and “it’s good for you.” Even if they aren’t buying directly from the farmer, many people like the idea that their food isn’t being produced by a big, faceless company. So there’s also an aspect of control in this idea of buying local.

Moving away from food, though, there are also civic and economic aspects of buying local – it’s a way to support local businesses, local economies/jobs and local values. The emergence of American Express’ Small Business Saturday program highlights this. “Small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities,” the website explains. “They’re the corner stores that create jobs. The hardware stores that help build our economy. And the mom and pop shops whose very presence makes a neighborhood, a neighborhood.”

There may be more opportunity to buy locally made (or at least U.S.-made) goods in locally owned stores. Such goods reduce transportation impacts. But with a civic impetus for buying local, the actual source of the products may not be as much of an issue for the buyer. He may be more focused on keeping at least some of the dollars he spends close to home, not so much on the fact that his new shirt from the little store on Main Street was manufactured in Bangladesh.

Local sourcing for businesses
Let’s shift to the B2B sector. According to our recently released B2B Pulse, only 29 percent of organizations in the nine industries represented in the survey have local sourcing initiatives.

Yet 55 percent of our respondents (all company decision makers) said that local sourcing is important or very important when they make purchase decisions. It was quite a surprise that local sourcing ended up among the top three initiatives that influence business decision makers in product selection. We also found out that certain industries place more value on local sourcing: education, hospitality/entertainment and construction/renovation.

So there’s opportunity for local suppliers. If you’re a small business who can help B2B customers keep their supply chains local, you’re valued. You just might not hear about it. That’s why it’s important to get your story out – how you support your community, how you can help your B2B customers decrease shipping miles and how you can make their supply chains more efficient.

Local is in the eye of the beholder: B2B vs. B2C
I recently read GM’s local sourcing stories on their website. I did not expect them to be set in China, India and Russia.

When American consumers seek to “buy local,” or when they want to support larger companies who source their products locally … local is perceived to be geographically local to them. Not local to factories in China. So be aware that B2B “local sourcing” and end-consumer perceptions of “buying local” are quite different. If you’re a company looking to leverage a local message to both end consumers and B2B customers, one undifferentiated story will likely not suffice.


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Posted on

January 22, 2014

About the Author

Meghan McDonald

Meghan concepts and writes copy for clients and also reviews creative deliverables for clarity, grammar and brand alignment. She brings an interdisciplinary background in environmental studies and journalism to our team. If you want to know the name of a tree or flower, she’s the one to ask.

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