Home » July-August

Independents Again Beat the Chains

Consumer Reports magazine surveyed more than 21,000 people about their experiences buying major and small appliances from chains, independents and internet-only merchants, and published the results in its August 2010 issue. For major appliances, independent ABT Electronics (Chicago) led the pack in overall ratings, with all other independent dealers grouped together in second. The major chains all rated much lower.

For small appliances, Amazon beat physical stores on selection and price (Amazon was not rated on staff knowledge or service, so its top ranking comes while being ranked only on its strengths). Independent retailers collectively ranked second, well ahead of all chain stores. You'll need to see the magazine or subscribe online to see the full report, but click here for the graph summarizing the results.

New AMIBA Affiliation Benefits and Member Tools

Personalized Facebook Assistance
A well-designed and maintained Facebook page can do much much more than communicate with community members. It can connect your various web presences, serve as a recruiting tool for members and volunteers, boost your search engine rankings and eliminate the need to build a full website until after newer groups have a solid foundation (this can save lots of time and headaches while you solidify your identity).

AMIBA's Lily von Mosch, who teaches social media at Montana State University, will help new or existing AMIBA affiliates design or expand their Facebook pages, lead fans to learn more about your organization and engage them (in the real world and online). For example, leading each new visitor to your mission page before they see your "wall" makes them more likely to visit your website (if applicable) and engage. We'll show you how to create within Facebook an About Us page, Contact page, newsletter sign-up page and explain other options. You'll also learn how to set up Google Analytics to track visits, referring websites, visited pages and more.

See the new framework Lily just set up for AMIBA's Facebook page for ideas (and become a fan/participate while you're at it!). Call Lily at 406-582-1255 for assistance.

No, not that kind!

Resources on Board Development and Engagement
We've added a new section to our online member resources (login required) to our onlineon board engagement and development, which includes: a board skills/assets matrix; sample board expectations and agreement, questionnaire for prospective board members, suggested committees, conflict of interest policy and much more.

Also, if you missed the latest organizers' conference call on the same topic, you can find the mp3 recording (50 minutes) here.

Business and Politics

Sales Tax Fairness
While AMIBA neither has endorsed nor opposed sales taxes as general policy, we believe storefront businesses should not be obligated to collect taxes on purchases while out-of-state competitors who ship goods to customers are exempted from such duty by federal law. Such discrimination makes fair market competition impossible and ultimately increases tax burdens on independent storefront businesses. Ideally, closing this tax loophole would be revenue-neutral (i.e. states and municipalities would decrease tax rates to offset the increased revenue).

While New York and other states recently have acted to close this loophole, momentum is growing for a national solution. Sponsored by Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA), the Main Street Fairness Act would allow states, provided they have met certain conditions, to require large internet and mail-order retailers to collect state and local sales taxes ($5 million in annual sales was used in a previous version of bill). Learn more.

Why Does Target Have a Subsidiary in Bermuda?
“Small businesses don't have the option of hiding profits overseas, which puts them at a distinct competitive disadvantage,” says Stacy Mitchell of the New Rules Project in her new article exposing some of the tax dodges used by transnational chains. Federal tax policy that allows major corporations to escape paying their share of taxes necessarily handicaps independent business competing against them.

Financial Reform Law
On July 21 President Obama signed into law the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. One inclusion we were happy to see in this expansive bill is the Durbin Amendment on credit card/bank interchange fees. Interchange or "swipe fees" are charges merchants pay card companies for processing debit and credit card transactions. The fee for debit cards currently averages 1.6% -- credit card swipe fees average more than 2%. Under the new law, the Federal Reserve can cap the fees on debit cards (but not credit cards) limiting them to what they decide is "reasonable and proportional to the actual cost incurred."

Importantly, merchants will be allowed to offer a discount to customers who pay with cash, checks or cards carrying lower transaction fees. Previously, almost all credit card contracts forced businesses to absorb the costs of expensive cards and forbid offering cash incentives. Businesses also will be free to set minimums and maximums for card transactions. If you'd like more details on how this law will affect your member businesses, ask us.

"Beer Stimulus" Would Cut Taxes on Micro-Breweries
We’ll toast to bi-partisanship on this proposal to cut federal excise taxes in half (from $7 to $3.50 per barrel) on the first 60,000 barrels of beer brewed annually by a brewer. The original co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID); John Kerry (D-MA); Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

On a related note, a recent Wall Street Journal report verified what AMIBA's staff in Bozeman already knew: Montana is the microbrewery king, leading all U.S. states in breweries per capita. Here's a nifty map summarizing data.

Drinking and Eating to Support Local Business

While we're talking beer, the Louisville Independent Business Alliance hosted their second annual Brewfest, a celebration of locally-crafted beers and brewers, as part of Independents Week. LIBA received excellent TV coverage, including the local Fox morning show reporting on-site for the week (no word on whether beer samples influenced their coverage). Local brews were enjoyed by more than 2000 attendees, outstripping the supply of commemorative mugs, and LIBA netted about $16,000 to advance its excellent work!

We'll work with LIBA and others to add a "how-to" document on running a successful microbrew festival to member resources shortly.

After drawing four times the 5,000 people predicted for its first event, the Los Angeles Street Food Fest moved to the Rose Bowl for its second event last Saturday…and sold out. Participants paid $45 to sample the goods from 60 local chefs, street vendors and truck vendors. Proceeds went to support a school garden and a “meals on wheels” program. The Atlantic magazine has more on the event.

Tour transportation may vary from picture

Upcoming Events and AMIBA Tours

August events include our fourth 2010 regional gathering for independent business and localization advocates. ShoLo of South Bend, IN will host the event for participants from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin on August 19. Here are the details and registration link. Contact us to inquire about hosting your own state or regional gathering.

The prior day, Stacy Mitchell and AMIBA's Jeff Milchen will lead a series of workshops for the Independent Garden Center Show. Let us know if you're in the Chicago area and would like to meet or attend a workshop.

Next week, we'll be outlining a fall schedule that will include our biggest tour yet, covering much of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southern U.S., during November. Shorter tours in other regions are scheduled for Sept-Oct (confirmed events are here). Contact us to inquire.

Featured Website of the Month

Sheepless.org is a community-supported media platform created by and for entrepreneurs, foodies, artists and more. It champions Community Makers — business people who make our communities more sustainable, creative, accessible and fun. Sheepless engages with a growing interest in cultivating local economies, understanding where goods come from, and nourishing our natural resources. Founder Scott Ballum just embarked on a coast-to-coast tour to discover innovative and unique independent businesses wherever they may be, and is documenting the trip in writing and in video. Read or watch more.

More News from AMIBA Affiliates

Welcome to the newest AMIBA affiliate, Shop Local Milledgeville (Georgia), which joined the Alliance in July. This new effort is supported by the Digital Bridges program at Georgia College & State University.

The Austin IBA received a Keep Austin Beautiful grant to help spruce up their newest IBIZ District (the sixth), appropriately named East Sixth. A local designer will create artsy planter boxes for the district from salvaged materials and AIBA has engaged a team of high school students to partner with local businesses and grow edible herbs and other native plants.

COLORS, the AMIBA affiliate in Columbia, MO, held a press conference as part of Independents Week to announce proclamations from both Columbia's mayor and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. As a result, COLORS received excellent TV coverage for their activity and gained the attention of a new partner -- the City's new sustainability officer. Eureka and Fresno, CA; Cleveland Heights, OH; Scranton, PA and El Paso, TX are among the many communities to generate official Indie Week endorsements from their local governments.

In addition to much local coverage, Independents Week generated interest from some national business journalists, including Donna Fenn of Bnet. Fenn interviewed AMIBA director Jennifer Rockne on the merits of local independent businesses, the impact of buy local campaigns and the importance of nurturing entrepreneurism.

The Portland Independent Business and Community Alliance set up an information table and served birthday cake (they launched with Indie Week in 2006 -- happy 4th birthday!) at the Farmers Market on July 4th. Table volunteers were delighted to see numerous visitors sporting their "Portland Buy Local" t-shirts, completely unprovoked. Portland has engaged local artists to design their ongoing series of posters and other outreach materials. The talents of Amy Teh are displayed on PBL's coordinating new directory, t-shirt, poster, and tote bag.

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