We’re all familiar with the stories of Australia Post’s increased parcel load at Christmas. The steady stream of packages, many from overseas, becomes a flood tide around this time of year. But at what cost to regional local businesses?
Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and a huge portion of the Australian workforce shifting to working from home, and the situation becomes increasingly difficult for small businesses, which is responsible for a third of Australia’s economic activity and pays wages for more than half the workforce.
Enter initiative Go Local First, which urges us all to start with our local businesses and inject our cash into our own economies.
The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia is behind the campaign, which is garnering support from Regional Development Australia and many local government organisations.
Go Local First is headlined by former longstanding Member for Goulburn Pru Goward, who has been criss-crossing the country, working on ways for local governments and business chambers to get onboard.
There have been some wins. A partnership with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has ensured Go Local First posters are in chemists across Australia; Regional Development Australia branches such as Southern Inland have come onboard; and local business chambers are also energising members about the local potential.
“We try to get stakeholders to start thinking beyond local advertising alone,” says Pru. “Social media can be really useful, as can local sporting organisations with thousands of members because there’s already a high level of trust.
“We’re trying to find local influencers to promote Go Local First on their Facebook pages and mention their gratitude for community support.
“Small business is really doing it tough and we want to get into people’s minds that this is the right thing to do.”
Research shows that not knowing who or where local businesses are is one reason why people don’t shop locally. Suggested strategies include signing up with Google Maps, while many councils have set up interactive business directories that don’t rely on council resources to update them.
The Go Local First campaign recognises that building awareness alone is not enough. Consumers need financial incentives such as gift cards, local business draws and lucky shopper prizes that involve services as well as retail businesses.
“We’ve seen an amazing number of incentive schemes from small communities,” says Pru. “Half of Western Australia has local dollars schemes that can be spent in any participating business, and on the NSW Central Coast the business chamber has persuaded local clubs to offer a $25 lucky door prize to be spent at local shops.
“In Victor Harbour [South Australia] they do a redemption scheme. You bring in receipts of $300 for things you’ve bought locally, then you get two free tickets to the movies or a horse-drawn carriage trip to the penguin colony. Coonamble [in NSW] has a once-a-year $14,000 draw where the whole community gets onboard at the annual Christmas party.
“It’s about converting consumer behaviour beyond the goodwill factor.”
COVID-19 has, in some ways, helped the cause. People are not in the city centres as often as they were and that’s good for small local shops, although in general those businesses are also more profoundly affected by downturns and have less capacity to spread the loss.
“We need to keep faith with our local communities,” says Pru. “We’re asking people to think about them first and keep that spirit of community alive, or local business won’t be there when you need them.
“A small business has so much character. It’s that person’s idea about what their community needs. Don’t homogenise everything; let’s keep our individual businesses strong.”
You can find out more about the Go Local First campaign here.