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February 2, 2012

Independent thinkers: The numbers don’t lie

Survey: Sales up in cities with independent business alliances

NEW ALBANY — Cities like New Albany with “buy local” campaigns enjoyed greater revenue growth than communities without independent business alliances, according to an Institute for Local Self-Reliance study.

The fifth edition of the post holiday survey — which included responses from 1,768 businesses in 49 states — showed establishments in cities with an active buy local effort saw revenue growth of 7.2 percent in 2011, compared to 2.6 percent for those that did not. Independent retailers reported a holiday sales growth of 8.5 percent for November and December compared to a 5.2 percent increase for such businesses located in communities without a buy-local initiative.

“Throughout the holiday season, we were hearing anecdotally from independent business owners that they were especially busy and many customers were seeking out locally owned stores,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “The results of this survey suggest that this was indeed a widespread trend.”

Through grassroots efforts, the independent business alliance New Albany First launched last year. The organization holds organizational meetings, educational forums and markets local, independent businesses.

New Albany First Director Andy Terrell said the aim has been to get consumers to shift a percentage of their spending to locally owned, independent businesses.

“We feel that by doing so, people will begin to realize that our business owners in New Albany and Floyd County have so much to offer that many consumers just don’t realize,” he said.

The post-holiday survey proves the importance of such independent business alliances, New Albany Urban Enterprise Zone Association Executive Director Michael Ladd said.

“We have come late to the game of keeping our dollars within the city limits,” he said. “This is a competition that New Albany can no longer ignore.”

The organization has yet to receive public funding, as a proposal to subsidize the group with $80,000 over two years was tabled by the New Albany City Council in December. Ladd said New Albany First is critical because the city is in a competitive market. When considering Louisville and Clark County, there are several communities located within a 10-mile radius of New Albany, most of which have merchants associations, buy-local programs or at least a group designated to represent businesses, Ladd said.

“That is why New Albany First is so important,” he said. “It is the only organization dedicated to ‘buy local, buy independent’ that this town has.”

Due to its early success, Sew Fitting owner Cisa Barry moved her business from along Pearl Street to the White House Centre late last year. Barry — who is now a New Albany First board member — said several customers who have frequented Sew Fitting over the last few months mentioned they learned of her business through New Albany First.

“Our community has a lot more to offer than people necessarily think,” she said.

Through its Facebook page, meetings and educational forums, Barry said New Albany First provides a competitive advantage for local establishments by spreading the word about the city’s independent businesses, she said.

“As its presence within the community grows and as New Albany First is able to do more seminars, I think that will just continue,” Barry said. “They’ll have more outreach, and be able to get the word out to more people.”

But as Terrell mentioned, Barry said consumer education of the benefits of buying local is key to New Albany First.

Ladd said the survey further proved to him not just the importance of New Albany First, but the need for the city to “join the economic development game in a more professional manner.”

“We need to examine the approach we have been using and become more professional in our approach,” he said.

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