Dane Buy Local looking to diversify and grow
by A. David Dahmer
As the holiday season rapidly approaches and as people buy more and more things, Dane County Buy Local would love for you to consider honor locally owned, independent businesses instead of the usual big box retailers.
“I think we have a lot of people who want to get involved with Dane Buy Local because they want to support the community and the vibrancy that it brings,” says Colin Murray, executive director of Dane Buy Local. “On the economic side of things, keeping dollars here as opposed to shipping them out is one of the benefits that people love. If you go to one of the big box stores, only $43 out of $100 spent stays in the local economy; the rest of it gets shipped off to Arkansas or Illinois or wherever. But if you spend those same $100 at a local business, $73 will stay in the local economy.
“Recirculating the money locally helps to keep taxes lower and providing services for each of us here,” he adds. “One of the big benefits of buying local is that you are helping to support yourself.”
Originally known as the Dane County Buy Local Initiative, Dane Buy Local was founded in 2004 as a program of Wisconsin Partners for Sustainability. Dane Buy Local has been around for almost 11 years now and Murray has been with the organization from the beginning. Dane Buy Local is part of two nationwide Buy Local associations — Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA)
“Dane Buy Local essentially is encouraging people to consider local buying options when making purchasing decisions,” Murray says in an interview at Badger Bowl on Madison’s south side. “We’re not the oldest Buy Local group in the country, but we are one of the older ones. There’s about 90 Buy Local groups around the country. Dane Buy Local is the largest regional Buy Local group in the country. We have over 800 members now.”
Over 65 percent of Dane Buy Local’s members are made up of 5 employees or less. Dane Buy Local initiated the popular slogan, “Friendly Faces, Neighborhood Place,” and posters showcasing the slogan can still be found throughout Dane County at their members' place of business.
During this upcoming holiday season, Dane Buy Local is asking consumers to shift that mindset and “Shift Your Shopping.” Consumers will be encouraged to “Think Local First.” Dane Buy Local has just embarked on this two-month campaign to support local businesses during the months of November and December.
“‘Shift Your Shopping’ is about making people aware of the benefits of shopping locally. We have a list of participating members that are involved in the ‘Shift Your Shopping’ program during the holidays,” Murray says. “It is tied in with the Small Business Saturday event that really zeroes in on that importance to support local businesses.”
Small Business Saturday encourages people to shop at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The single day has grown into a powerful movement, and more people are taking part than ever before. This year, the big day will be Nov 29.
Dane Buy Local has made a great effort in recent years to bring diversity into their organization. They have a Diversity Committee that meets regularly to discuss strategies. “Part of that goes back to my time at The Madison Times. It’s something that I watched Betty Franklin-Hammonds really work hard on in Madison and it really became ingrained in me and stuck with me since then,” says Murray, who was the sales manager for The Madison Times for many years in the ‘90s. “When I took over as executive director of the organization, that’s one of the first things that I pointed out: We’re very, very white. We have very few people of color in our organization and I wanted to change that.”
“The [Diversity] Committee has been great. Sara Alvarado has really taken the lead in working on the education angle of it and that’s done very well for us,” Murray says. “We’re also making an effort to include minority businesses as we build our membership up. We’ve been making traction there as well particularly working with the Latino Chamber [of Commerce].”
Dane Buy Local determined that one of the things that they could do was to work with the schools and develop a mentorship program with high school students.
“We’d essentially be matching up a minority student with a business and mentoring them so they can learn about entrepreneurship,” Murray says.
Dane Buy Local’s next event coming up is the 5th Annual Isthmus Independent Business Awards on Nov. 18 at Olbrich Gardens which will be a celebration of entrepreneurs, artists, performers, and community builders that make the Madison area unique.
Murray says that his favorite part of being executive director of Dane Buy Local is interacting with the members.
“Just being able to see how their businesses are developing and thriving. They are doing well and hopefully we have some influence on that,” he says. “With 800 members now it’s hard to interact with all of them. That’s a huge challenge for us to be able to touch each of the 800 members, but I have a great staff and they work very diligently to support the membership.”
Murray says that Dane Buy Local just finished up their strategic plan for 2015. “We not only want to grow; but we want to make sure that we are taking care of our
members and keeping everybody happy,” he says. “There’s three things that came out of that strategic planning: education, promotion, and collaboration. We’ll be working hard on those three components in the future.
“I keep thinking that we’re going to slow down on our membership but we really keep growing,” Murray adds with a smile. “I thought we would top out at 400 or 500 members, but every year we just keep growing. We’re looking to keep doing that.”
For more information about Dane Buy Local, visit http://www.danebuylocal.com