LACONIA — Belknap Independent Business Alliance has been holding monthly forums with the goal of gathering input from local business owners, community leaders and residents on the topic of the Buy Local movement.
BIBA's next forum takes place at Wednesday, June 3 from 7:30 am to 9 am at Lakes Region Community Services Council on Main Street. "We chose mornings to allow people to attend before they get to work and get too wrapped up in things", says Executive Director Kate Hamel.
Hamel says the intent is to gather information to help gauge how the organization is doing at furthering their mission to "support, advocate and enhance locally owned independent businesses in the Lakes Region." The gatherings have been informal in nature, a format which Hamel says works well. "We have gained valuable insight into the challenges locally owned businesses continue to face as well as some wonderful ideas to potentially incorporate into our plans moving forward", reports Hamel.
On the topic of the Buy Local movement, Rueben Bassett, co-owner of Burrito Me in Laconia, was quick to point out that, while he appreciates the intent of the organization, he doesn't want people to buy from his business out of pity. "I don't want your charity; I want you to buy from me because I offer a superior product. I have to in order to compete".
Bob Bolduc, owner of Piche's Ski and Sports Shop of Gilford, emphasized the need to adapt to changing consumer behaviors. He and Bruce Hamel of Home Beautiful in Belmont described buyers who come to their businesses to get information, but often make their purchases online or at big box stores at a lower price. "What people don't realize it that the 'Amazon.coms' and Lowe's of the world require manufacturers to make something that looks identical to the quality version but sells for less", stated Hamel. "The way they do that is to use inferior materials and cut corners. The perception is that online and big box buying equates to savings, but these cheaper versions don't perform as well or hold up as long".
Bolduc has seen an increase in repairs due to the inferior quality of online purchases and has adapted to this trend by increasing the repair portion of the business. "They buy online then bring it to us to fix when it falls apart".
For Jim Daubenspeck of Daub's Cobbler Shop, buying locally is a personal matter. As a child he saw his father, a factory worker by trade, lose his job as the work was sent overseas. Because of this he is passionate about buying American made and local, not just in his personal life but also for business.
Michelle Merrill, co-owner of the Dairy Queen franchise in Laconia stated her frustration at not being considered local. "We live here, our money stays here" Merrill pointed out. Franchises are a topic often debated by the local movement with the majority not including them under the umbrella of independently owned and local.
Not all who have attended the forums have been business owners. Others have been representatives from local organizations such as Karmen Gifford of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, Justin Slattery of Belknap Economic Development Center, Karen Barker co-owner of Minglewood Farm and coordinator for the Lakes Region Food Network, as well as a number of members of the Laconia Main Street group. Business Advisor Sally Holder of the NH Small Business Development Center explained her confusion of the missions of the various organizations. A considerable amount of time was spent on the topic, outlining the need to differentiate what the various groups are all about and how they support one another.
"We're now in a very good place, with a collaborative spirit amongst the various groups" states Hamel. "While all have different missions and members, there are also areas where we overlap. It need not be a 'them or us' mentality. We benefit from working together".