Declaration of Independents
New organization brings independent business owners together
By D.R. Bartlette
Think for a moment about your favorite places in town – where you go to meet your friends for lunch, hear live music, or rummage through racks of secondhand clothing. Chances are, each of those places is a locally owned business – the unique, funky little places that give Fayetteville its color and character.
And yet, the growing trend across the nation is the spread of big-box and chain stores, which cause local businesses to shutter, siphon money away from the local economy and often contribute to sprawl.
Like many other local business owners, Liz Slape, founder of the Keep Fayetteville Funky campaign, decided to do something about this trend.
What do you want Fayetteville to look like? she asked. “What places would you be heartbroken if they went belly-up? And do your purchasing decisions follow that vision?”
Together with Lisa Sharp, the owner of Nightbird Books, Slape founded the Fayetteville Independent Business Alliance, or FIBA, which is an affiliate of the American Independent Business Alliance, or AMIBA.
Started in Boulder, Colo. in 1998, AMIBA now has 47 affiliates in 29 states, plus Ontario, Canada. The group functions like a support network, providing resources, information and advice to its members.
Slape said her inspiration came from owning and running an independent business, Penguin Ed’s, during a hard decade.
“It was my family’s livelihood,” she said.
Sharp said her exposure to independent business alliances was through the American Booksellers Association, because, she said, independent booksellers have very small profit margins and can’t compete with chain bookstores on prices alone.
“Our goal with FIBA is to give independent businesses exposure to the community and give the community solid, factual information about how shopping locally can benefit Fayetteville.”
As Slape puts it, “It’s easy to pull on people’s heartstrings, but we want to talk about the purse strings too.”
According to Jeff Milchen, co-founder of AMIBA, independent locally owned businesses employ an array of support services, such as architects, designers, cabinet shops, sign makers and contractors and additionally local accountants, insurance brokers, computer consultants, attorneys and advertising agencies to help run their businesses.
Local retailers and distributors also carry a higher percentage of locally produced goods than chains do, meaning more jobs for local producers.
In contrast, according to Milchen, a new chain store typically is a clone of other units, which eliminates the need for local planning and uses a minimum of local goods and services. A chain store’s profits are exported to corporate headquarters, and most of the local jobs pay low wages, creating a sort of one-two punch that has profound negative effects on the local economy.
Dollars spent at community-based businesses create a multiplier effect in the local economy that, by most findings, typically amounts to three times that of a chain, according to Milchen. He quotes a 2003 economic impact study by the IBA in Austin, Tex. that concluded that for every $100 spent at a chain, $13 remained in the community, yet when that same $100 was spent at a locally owned business, $45 remained.
As members of the community, local business owners more often have the community’s best interests at heart, according to Milchen.
Sharp explained Nightbird’s dedication to community involvement.
“One of my goals at Nightbird Books is to be part of the Fayetteville community and support writers and readers in as many ways as possible.”
Besides poetry readings and book clubs, the bookstore’s “Local Author Spotlight” provides an opportunity for writers without a large marketing budget or publisher support to present their work and offer it for sale, Sharp said.
“Most large chain bookstores have no interest in marketing a book that may only sell a few copies, but I see that as part of Nightbird’s mission.”
Slape said she wanted to be clear that FIBA isn’t “anti” anything.
“We’re pro-education and awareness,” she said.
She said that FIBA has a three-pronged approach for achieving its goals:
1. General education and awareness: The “Keep Fayetteville Funky” campaign is being used not only to increase awareness of the importance of supporting local businesses, but as a fundraiser to help FIBA get started.
2. As a political link: “Our purpose is to make sure that there is a voice for existing companies, and for sustaining and developing entrepreneurs,” Slape said. Politically, the group will not endorse any specific candidate, but Slape said its role is more of a link between local government and businesses, to act as a collective voice and as a watchdog to local government.
3. Marketing and advertising: One of the main things FIBA will do, Slape said, is to provide opportunities for co-op advertising, group purchasing like coffee mugs, bags and other branding. Slape said the first project FIBA is undertaking is to create a local business directory like the one in Austin.
One of the ways that FIBA is trying to educate the public on the importance of shopping locally is with Fayetteville Unchained! Fayetteville Unchained! will be held in conjunction with America Unchained! On Nov. 22, consumers around the country are asked to patronize only local businesses for that one day, which could inject millions of dollars into the local economy, according to AMIBA.
“Fayetteville currently has many unique businesses that won’t be found anywhere else. That is part of what makes us Fayetteville,” Sharp said. “Unfortunately, small, independent businesses are the most vulnerable in economic downturns. We want consumers to be aware that shopping locally when possible is the only way to keep Fayetteville the unique and wonderful place that it is. The chains will still be here no matter what.”
“Especially right now, with the economy the way it is, we really need Fayetteville’s citizens to make a conscious decision to patronize local businesses.”
Slape summed up her inspiration for founding FIBA, “Deep down in my heart, I don’t want Fayetteville to become ‘Anywhere, USA.’ I love Fayetteville. That’s what it comes down to, and what we can all agree on.”
What is a local, independent business?
• Private, employee, community or cooperative ownership
• Owned in majority by area resident(s)
• Full decision-making function for the business lies with its owner(s)
• No more than six outlets, bases of operation lie within a single state
– source: American Independent Business Alliance