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Economy & Business

Push to Shop Local in Full Swing

LaToya Dennis

The biggest shopping day of the year means hiring extra workers, not to mention moving tons of merchandise. Activity whirrs both at big box stores and at the so-called mom and pop shops in town. Their signature day is November 29– Small Business Saturday.

The smell of essential oils permeates the air in Jill Gilbert’s home in Oak Creek.

“You’re probably smelling a whole like a whole group of everything mixed together. There’s a lot of lavender out here, I made lavender butter the other day,” Gilbert says.

Rows and rows of shelving occupy the corner of Gilbert’s kitchen workspace. They hold soaps she’s made, using everything from beer to tea tree oil. Gilbert sells her products under the company name, Moots. A few stores carry them. She says the holiday shopping season is critical for her business – it makes about a third of its annual sales during the months of November and December.

“That’s like meat and potatoes time cause a lot of people like to give gifts of soap,” Gilbert says.

So Gilbert’s been hustling to meet demand. She says it’s also important for her to buy local.

“People, they care more about what they’re doing if they’re selling it and they’re making it they put more heart into it I think than if it’s something from a big box,” Gilbert says.

One person who believes he can help local shops capitalize on the holiday season is Eric Tallendge. He started a service he calls Small Shops United. And he says about 65 Milwaukee area brick and mortar shops have joined as members.

“It’s a platform that I created to give local independent business owners I guess a way of using a technology to attract new business and also reward their repeat customers and their best customers,” Tallendge.

Tallendge says it’s like a customer loyalty program.

For some small retailers, his system has replaced the punch cards they were using. They typically offered customers a reward, after a certain number of visits. Tallendge also offers a point system.

“One dollar spent is always equal to one point, that’s sort of universal. So if I were a restaurant and I said once you spend $200 which is earning 200 points you have a $20 certificate with us,” Tallendge says.

Tallendge says the real beauty of the program is that Small Shops United tracks every transaction. It also aggregates the information, to help members target customers and deals.

The advantage to the community of residents buying local is that a lot of the money stays here, according to Kelly Andrew. She’s with the advocacy group, Local First Milwaukee.

“When you’re spending at a big box store, a higher percentage of that is going somewhere else whether it’s wherever their headquarters is, it’s not staying here,” Andrew says.

Andrew also encourages residents to bank local. She says those institutions are frequently the ones providing loans to small, local businesses.

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