Buy Local. It’s Good for Your Business
by Stephanie Lee

Guest columnist Stephanie Lee of Host Agency Reviews writes a monthly column on issues faced by travel agents who work from home.

Toward the end of a presentation I gave recently on how home-based agents can use the web to market themselves for under $100, I mentioned the importance of having proper business cards.

Stephanie Lee

Afterwards, a gentleman came up to me and said, “You know, in your next presentation, you should mention that people should buy their business cards with a local printer. Mine are custom die-cuts, and they were cheaper [purchased] locally than online.”

That got me thinking about the business benefits of buying locally.

The facts
Travel agents are closely tied to their communities. When the local economy booms, they prosper. When the local economy drops, they feel it.  

A recent study found that for every $100 spent at a local store, $68 is re-circulated back into the community.  

By contrast, when purchases are made at chains or big box stores, the amount that stays within the community drops to $43.

Local ties
For home-based agents, local stores are part of their small business family.

Like you, your local vendors feel the pain of online competition or big box stores. Like you, they stay alive by offering an experience or product that the online competition and mega-retailers can’t or won’t provide.

Travel agents work in an industry fraught with online competition. They should be hyper-aware of the value and expertise that local businesses can deliver, especially compared to their web-based counterparts.

But how many of us went online to buy our last set of business cards?

Pizza purchasing power: case in point
Not long ago, a travel agent friend told me how she snagged her first group cruise booking.

She was talking to the owner of a local pizza shop and he mentioned a group trip that he took every year. When she asked for his business (good move!), he replied that he already booked through someone else.  

My friend wanted to work with the pizza shop owner. She liked him, and they had a good rapport. So she told him, “I’m going to come in here every week and buy a pizza from you until you book with me.”  

And she did.

And she got his booking.  

Buying local is good marketing
Thinking about it, I realized that what my friend and other agents are doing by supporting local small businesses is actually a marketing technique.

It’s not a hard sell. It’s not cross-marketing. It’s not focused networking a la BNI. It’s putting their money where their mouth is.

These agents want people to see the value they bring to the table. So how did they do it? They show respect to other small businesses facing the same challenges they face, and they give them their business.

They find common threads – being small business owners – upon which to build a relationship.

Isn’t that how most business transactions start?

Going for broke
Oh, I realize we can’t buy everything local. We don’t expect travelers to buy everything through us, and the same holds true for other goods and services.  

However, if you want to network and grow your business, why not start with those who truly understand the value of expertise and service?  

Instead of heading to Applebee’s, spend your money at the local diner or pizzeria. Wear your name tag or agency T-shirt, then chat up the owner.

And next time you need a new shovel? Visit the local hardware store, instead of heading to Home Depot.

You never know where it will lead.

Stephanie Lee operates Host Agency Reviews, which features agent reviews of host agencies and tips for starting and growing a travel agency. Her presentation about using the web to market inexpensively is called “The $100 Marketing Plan.”

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Alice    11/21/2012 7:00:40 PM
I challenge agents to take a step further with the concept of buying local to ensure that your client's money stays in the hands of small businesses and boosts local economies when traveling. You might choose to book family-run boutique hotels and offer local restaurant recommendations vs a 5-star European-owned inclusive resort, for example. This will benefit the local communities that your clients are visiting and give them a true experience within a destination. Then share that story with your clients so that they know how much good they're doing on their journeys... which is also good marketing.

Tip of the Day
I learned a lot about better ways to market the product while I was onboard [the Viking Star]. The biggest challenge for travel agents is understanding which is the best line for each customer, being able to distinguish the products from one to the next.
John Werner, MAST Travel Network president
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