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VOL. 126 | NO. 138 | Monday, July 18, 2011

‘In This Together’

Buy Local campaign seeks to promote Memphis businesses

By Andy Meek

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For some Memphis consumers, it’s a completely natural impulse to go out of the way to keep from going far away when there’s money to spend. Those particular consumers will run over a TCBY to get to YoLo, shove past a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix at Otherlands, Republic or Cafe Eclectic, hop over an IHOP to stand in line at Brother Juniper’s and dodge Dillard’s to suit up at shops like Oak Hall and James Davis.

The reasons are varied. “I want to support my local business.” “I want customer service that’s special, not scripted.” “I’d rather have higher quality than fresh off an assembly line.” Whatever they are, the sight of a consumer hard-wired with an innate love of buying local is not an uncommon one at all.

Since last year, the Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club has been the driving force behind an effort to translate that same phenomenon over to the other side of the equation – to the business side.

The Breakfast Club’s “Power of the Dollar” campaign is a grassroots promotion of what buying local means for a community’s businesses. It’s a multi-pronged attempt by the organization to show business leaders how far their local dollars go, and why it makes sense to put their dollars and cents to work as often as they can as close to home as they can.

The club’s “Buy Local” push is continuing to pick up steam, now poised to move into newer stages of the game plan.

Jeremy Park, communications director for Lipscomb Pitts Insurance and director of the Breakfast Club, said organizers are sitting down now and drafting what the next commercial campaign is going to look like. Park also writes a column for The Memphis News and The Daily News, called “Giving Back.”

Last year, they put together a TV commercial shown by breakfast club member WMC-TV 5. It depicted four of Memphis’ leading business figures – Susan Stephenson of Independent Bank, Kevin Adams of CB Richard Ellis, Greg Duckett of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. and Lipscomb Pitts Insurance chief manager Johnny Pitts – passing a dollar from one person to the next. New commercials should air in the fall.

Meanwhile, a new logo for the campaign that has been put together will start popping up around the city. Organizers of the campaign will be encouraging companies to put it on their website, storefront, van wrap and more.

Park acknowledges the main catalyst for shifting the program into second gear will be making sure businesses don’t stop at the feel-good stage.

“It’s much more than a pie in the sky thing,” he said. “There are valid economic drivers for everybody at least looking at this opportunity.”

Organizers are asking anyone who’ll lend their ear to the pitch – whether it involves the corner office or the corner store – to conduct their own internal audit. The Breakfast Club’s push is not for local companies to drop everything and go from zero to 100 percent in purchases of local goods and services. Instead, Park said, it’s about simply looking for ways to dial the percentage upward.

“The bottom line is there is now traction, and companies are starting to do the internal audits, commit to increasing the percentage spent locally and are also realizing nice benefits,” he said. “Like money savings and better customer service by taking a look at the jewels we have here in our own backyard.”

One motivation for pushback might be from a business owner who says the bottom line is most important. That it doesn’t matter who’s providing the good or service, but rather who’s providing the best – and cheapest – option.

That’s one reason the backbone of the message on things like billboards and TV ads came from the University of Memphis, which Park enlisted to run some numbers. The U of M found the economic impact of a single dollar spent in Memphis is $1.70 and for every million dollars spent, 11 jobs are created.

There are other incentives. Kerry Crawford, proprietor of the “I Love Memphis” blog and who regularly features local businesses for her readers, said there’s usually more of a direct link between the business and community when a local owner is involved.

“Local businesses can change fairly easily, and they’ve got more power to influence the community,” Crawford said. “If Memphians want things like more retail Downtown or fresher produce, the people that can most easily grow that food or start those businesses are other Memphians.”

Claude Thompson, owner of Skyline Exhibits Midsouth, moved to Memphis 11 years ago and said he’s seen this push in support of local businesses thrive in other communities.

Joe Incardona, president of Media Source, said his company didn’t hesitate when the Breakfast Club approached it to produce TV spots for the campaign. Incardona, who’s lived in Memphis since 1973, said he’s been here long enough to realize Memphis is a great city that’s nevertheless bedeviled at times by an inferiority complex.

“The impression has always seemed to be that something must be better if it comes from outside Memphis, whether that’s products or services, consultants or ideas. The Breakfast Club’s ‘Power of the Dollar’ campaign is aimed squarely at reversing that perception.”

– Joe Incardona, President, Media Source

“The impression has always seemed to be that something must be better if it comes from outside Memphis, whether that’s products or services, consultants or ideas,” Incardona said. “The Breakfast Club’s ‘Power of the Dollar’ campaign is aimed squarely at reversing that perception. That’s why it’s so important. Our community won’t grow in terms of the local economy, education and the general well-being of all its citizens unless we start supporting each other on a regular basis.”

The Power of the Dollar campaign is encouraging anyone interested to walk the walk as opposed to mere outward signs of agreement with the philosophy. That’s why Incardona said he’s making a conscious effort to seek out Memphis-based suppliers for his business.

For example, Media Source recently switched from a large nationwide provider of credit card merchant services to ePaymentAmerica, a Memphis company.

“I think this campaign is important because of the multiplying effect it can have on so many aspects of life in our city,” Incardona said. “If each dollar spent here grows as the figures gathered by Memphis economists show it will, then city and county governments will have the tax revenue to stem budget cuts and increase their ability to provide vital services such as public safety, top-notch education, efficient transportation and job opportunities for everyone in our community.”

While not direct supporters of this specific campaign, local governments buy in to the same principle. It’s the reason, for example, Memphis has a so-called “local preference ordinance,” which means, all things being equal, the city would rather contract for a good or service with a Memphis business rather than send tax dollars away that could be used to subsidize the growth of another city or county.

Lipscomb Pitts looked internally at itself and found that 78 percent of everything it spends stays local. The Power of the Dollar campaign is about more, so it means anyone who’s on board should be looking for ways to spend more in Memphis – whether that’s Lipscomb Pitts with almost 8 dollars of every 10 it now spends staying in town, or a firm elsewhere in town that spends less.

“We’ve got to do a better job in our community of saying, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together,’” Park said. “As much as we can, we’ve got to support each other. And there are valid economic reasons to do so.”

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396