Shop Syracuse Week is back, asking gift buyers to think outside the big box
The Small Business Saturday initiative may be armed with a spiffy television ad campaign, a marketing strategy and oodles of cash, but don’t be fooled or, worse yet, substitute it for Shop Syracuse Week. There’s a big difference between a national campaign financed by American Express and one that enjoys grass-roots support.“Like green-washing with environmentalism or pink-washing with breast cancer awareness, I consider Small Business Saturday to be local-washing,” says Chris Fowler, founder of Syracuse First, holding its third annual Shop Syracuse Week Friday, Nov. 25, through Dec. 3. “You have to invest a little time and energy in figuring out what it is groups like this are supporting.”
When it comes to Shop Syracuse, it’s pretty evident what the cause is, and why locals should get behind it. “Shift Your Shopping is the theme,” notes Fowler. “There’s been enough data collected about the retail season to show what the direct impact is on local businesses with campaigns like Syracuse First.”
For $100 spent locally, $30 stays locally, whether it’s supporting the business owner, going into property taxes or helping an employee feed a family. Quite simply, it’s an advantage not enjoyed when we shop at national, big-box retailers when the money goes to places like Arkansas.
With two solid years of success, Fowler has aligned Syracuse First with Shift Your Shopping (shiftyourshopping.org), encompassing 150 communities and focusing on the holiday season. “This is an exciting step in talking a unified language,” Fowler says. Locally, more than 230 businesses have signed on to Syracuse First. “It’s growing,” he adds, “and we don’t really have a sales team, so these are businesses that see the value of the organization and understand the philosophy of it and choose to align themselves with it.”
A good start toward supporting the effort would be if every holiday shopper shifted 10 percent of their purchases to local businesses. “It’s a small way to realize that you can have the same experience that you get at Starbucks somewhere else that is locally owned,” Fowler explains; think Freedom of Espresso or Recess Coffee. “It’s all habit: We go to the mall looking for something because we’ve never done anything else and until you do something else, you don’t know any different.”
This is the third year of Shop Syracuse Week, and in some ways Fowler is returning to his initial goal. “The first year we focused on trying to get some discounts and have businesses participate with specials,” he says. “Last year we wanted to get an awareness out there about independent, locally owned businesses and how they affect the local economy. This year we are back to doing more of a coordinated effort with more media support.”
That includes an intense social media push using Facebook (facebook.com/syracusefirst) and Twitter (twitter.com/@syracuse_first); in fact, Syracuse First seems to tweet updates several times an hour. “Those are the easiest ways for us to get eyeballs on our campaign,” Fowler notes. “In the last three months we’ve had over a million views on our social media networks. We’ve been able to leverage that universe to get people engaged with the organization and, more importantly, the movement.”
And with so much momentum, it’s no real surprise that a multinational conglomerate is jumping on board. Never mind the irony of a huge credit card company pushing a buy-local campaign. What’s really at work here, Fowler believes, is that American Express is gunning for transactions, consumption and thus improving their bottom line. It’s such an issue, in fact, that the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) decided not to endorse the campaign.
“BALLE is a network of socially responsible businesses, and Syracuse First is part of it,” Fowler says. “There are more than 25,000 independent businesses and 30,000 entrepreneurs; it acts as an umbrella for the think local movement. The big reason BALLE couldn’t support the campaign is because it’s disingenuous. The think local movement is predicated on good business over good marketing. American Express’ sole purpose is transactions; they are trying to capitalize on this growing market.
“I’m actually reticent to chastise their efforts because at least it’s brought some attention to the idea of local, independent business,” he continues. “The other part is, they typically are one of the last small business-friendly processes that there is. Their rates for each credit card transaction are typically higher for small businesses. In fact, a lot of local businesses don’t even accept American Express because it’s not worth the hassle.”
But it is worth trying to spend as much of your holiday shopping dollars locally as you can. Fowler acknowledges that sometimes the Target or Wal-Mart price can’t be beat, which is why the Syracuse First initiative asks you to divert a mere 10 percent to local independent businesses.
“If we can get people to change their behaviors now it’ll happen in
the long run,” Fowler says. “This is the most valuable time to have
economic impact on the community because this is the time with the
highest density of transactions. I want people to think about not just
being transactional, but transformational, and how that process affects
the quality of life in the community.”
Visit www.syracusefirst.org for more information.