Marketing tools like Poaster help support individual businesses while simultaneously creating a sense of place for the community.

What creates a successful “shop local” culture? 

Marketing – the art (or science?) of influencing consumer behavior with communication – plays an important role.  “Shop local” implies that we are battling factors that drive people to spend money outside our community.  Or course, real factors like product, price and convenience do drive buying decisions.  But sometimes, it is just marketing.  Did you even know you could get that here?   Would you have bought it here if you knew?

Arguably, the businesses are accountable for the first question while Village government can influence the answer to the second.

“Shop local” often seems like a “chicken and the egg” quandary.  Should we first count on individual businesses to market themselves, thus driving traffic to their stores and by extension our business districts?  Or should we count on some higher power to first market our commercial areas, bringing people here for an experience that includes patronizing our local establishments? 

Think of a successful shopping mall:  are you attracted to Oak Brook because of Nordstrom’s or do you run to Nordstrom’s and then find yourself walking around the beautifully manicured mall, popping into other stores while you are there?  Both, right?

The successful strategy markets top-down and bottom-up simultaneously.  A collaborative effort supports a sense of place, attracting people to the location. But success also relies on participation from individual businesses, as they promote their own unique products and services. 

You will be hearing about Poaster soon, on online marketing solution that offers tools for both the community and the individual.  Poaster helps small business owners put their name and product in front of consumers, online.  It also pulls these efforts together in a consolidated, local online marketplace.  We need more tools like this to support “shop local.”

Meanwhile, we lean on governments and associations to maintain business district infrastructure:  safety, density, diversity of shops, reasonable parking, attractive landscaping, and eclectic events.  Once people come, we want them to stay. 

With a combination of destination businesses, physically appealing and convenient commercial neighborhoods, and the right marketing, we can create a truly “shop local” culture.  For reasons more than just civic responsibility.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...