American Independent Business Alliance

Buy Local Greater Kalamazoo

Buy Local Greater Kalamazoo

Halfway between Chicago and Detroit bustles Kalamazoo, Michigan, a thriving metropolitan area – home to local hockey team the Kalamazoo Wings, Western Michigan University, an extensive network of outdoor biking trails and an ever-expanding crop of micro breweries. Working to maintain the unique local charm, Buy Local Greater Kalamazoo is a champion for the city’s independent businesses and works closely with local nonprofits, events and community groups to keep Kalamazoo’s flavor truly distinct.

Proud Kalamazoo Wings fans cheer their local hockey team at Smitten in the Mitten

In 2008, a passionate group of local business owners and citizens formed Buy Local and tasked it with distinguishing and raising the profile of indie businesses critical to Kalamazoo’s local economy. Looking forward, Faith Cervin, Buy Local’s Executive Director, hopes to guide the organization towards becoming a robust resource center for its members and establishing partnerships with local organizations to engage and support the entire Kalamazoo community.

To develop a deeper community presence, the organization has hosted or partnered with popular community events. For Smitten in the Mitten, part of the 2016 Shift Your Shopping holiday campaign, Buy Local sponsored a Kalamazoo Wings December game. Buy Local helped sell game tickets and received exclusive access to the arena’s concourse, which it rented out to member businesses who were invited to set up tables and share business information with the community. Buy Local sold tickets at member businesses, including local grocery stores and credit unions, which not only boosted Buy Local and its member business’ local presence, but also generated revenue for the organization.

Through the larger Shift Your Shopping campaign, Buy Local encourages Kalamazoo residents to shift a portion of their holiday spending to local businesses. They also promote a robust Small Business Saturday (SBS) event in partnership with American Express.

In March 2017, Buy Local sponsored the Women’s Lifestyle Expo, a local event that draws nearly 6,000 people over the course of two days. As the primary event sponsor, Buy Local received its own wing in the expo center and sold booth space to member businesses. Buy Local helped members prepare for the event and brainstorm unique tabling and marketing ideas.

Smitten in the Mitten, Shift Your Shopping and the Expo raised Buy Local’s name in the community and provided direct outreach opportunities to participating businesses, and, says Cervin, “even the businesses who don’t directly participate benefit because Buy Local is present, promoting the organization, all its members and the importance of buying local. Stepping out and being a part of major community events has dramatically increased Buy Local’s presence in Kalamazoo.”

Buy Local’s trademark “After 5” events cater specifically to the organization’s member businesses. Each month, a member hosts an after-work gathering for current and prospective Buy Local members, providing refreshments and a space to chat about business practices. Buy Local advertises the event, encourages members to attend, takes photographs and provides general support. About 50 people each month attend, representing a diverse mix of business owners and community members interested in championing the buy local cause.

Kalamazoo business members get to know each other at Buy Local’s After 5 event

In addition to events, Buy Local interacts with the local Kalamazoo community through their membership directory, the Guide to Local Living, which reaches 25,000 residents. Buy Local partners with the Community Quarterly (CQ), a coupon and lifestyle publication that sends direct mailers twice a year. Targeting residents based on demographics and location, Buy Local inserts their directory into 20,000 of the mailers. CQ and Buy Local share the workload and profits generated from advertisements; CQ predominantly focuses on advertising and layout while Buy Local ensures CQ has current information about its member businesses. The partnership permits Buy Local to send out direct mailers to Kalamazoo residents, a marketing option that often is expensive or even cost-prohibitive for other organizations. Buy Local also prints an additional 5,000 directories to distribute at community locations and via member businesses.

Moving forward, Cervin envisions Buy Local developing a much larger, more ingrained community presence. She hopes Buy Local will become more of a resource to businesses – such as providing them with funding solutions and assistance with their workforce. She also plans to activate Buy Local into a voice for change – advocating for policies that support independent businesses with local government. Yet even with these broader goals, Cervin wants Buy Local to retain its grassroots presence by “partnering with more organizations in our community to heighten local engagement and identify ways we can better support Kalamazoo.” Perhaps a big part of that is being in the stands to cheer when the Wings score their next goal.

Moving forward, Cervin envisions Buy Local developing a much larger, more ingrained community presence. As a first step in this direction, they recently partnered with United Way on a project focused on living and giving local. Other goals include providing more resources to businesses – such as business to business roundtables and connecting them with other organizations that assist with funding and workforce development. Yet even with these broader goals, Cervin wants Buy Local to retain its grassroots presence by “partnering with more organizations in our community to heighten local engagement and identify ways we can better support Kalamazoo businesses.” Perhaps a big part of that is being in the stands to cheer when the Wings score their next goal.

Learn more about Independent Business Alliances or see who’s interested in launching a new IBA or “buy local” initiative in your community.

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