'Buy Local' campaign takes on retail giants, labour shortages, rising lease rates

The holiday shopping blitz is now well underway. And for the sixth year in a row, smaller shops in B.C. are banding together to try to get their slice of the dollar, despite increasing challenges.

As holiday shopping season gets into full swing, businesses in B.C. try to win customers with annual campaign

B.C. Buy Local Week encourages consumers to spend their money at locally owned or operated shops, such as those in the Hastings-Crossing neighbourhood or on locally-produced goods. (LOCO BC)

The holiday shopping blitz is now well underway.

While Black Friday didn't cause as much of a frenzy on this side of the border, it is considered to be the major kickoff of the spending season.

That's followed closely by Cyber Monday, where online retailers try to convince consumers to keep the spending going.

And for the sixth year in a row, smaller shops in B.C. are banding together to try to get their slice of the dollar. 

It's Buy Local Week in B.C., a promotion that tries to encourage British Columbians to spend their money at locally owned or operated shops or on locally-produced wares.

The campaign is coordinated by LOCO B.C., a non-profit alliance of businesses throughout the province. 

Founder and executive director, Amy Robinson, says convincing shoppers to spend their money at home is not the main challenge but actually identifying which businesses are local can be.

"We hear time and again that Canadian consumers want local. They do understand what the economic impact is and many of them say they plan to shop independent businesses this holiday season," Robinson said.

"We want to make sure those retailers use the campaign to say, 'hey, we're local' so that consumers can find them."

Challenges abound for small businesses

Of course, that's not the only challenge facing independent businesses in B.C.'s larger centres right now. 

"Competition from big box and online shopping are two big challenges, but they're also struggling with property taxes, affordable leasing and labour shortages," said Robinson.

Even in smaller Ladner Village, Carol Tario Bobick can attest to that.

Tario Bobick says the opening of a nearby Tsawwassen Mills mega-mall, as well as increasing property taxes, have added pressure on her independent quilting shop, The Quilted Bear.

The Quilted Bear is a locally-owned shop in Ladner, B.C. (The Quilted Bear/Facebook)

'It just makes a vibrant town'

But Tario Bobick says she has seen business pick up a little as a result of B.C. Buy Local Week, which she's participated in for the last two years.

She says customers come in requesting items from local designers, and they often tell her they are visiting her store specifically because it is local.

And she says, when locals shop at local businesses, it can be a symbiotic relationship.

"If I have a request more than once, I bring that product in and stock it. So, one interesting side effect of that is that we actually bring in different kinds of needles for the fishermen in the neighbourhood," she said, adding the local fishermen need extra big needles for mending nets.

"It just makes a vibrant town." 

If the Buy Local campaign is as successful as Amy Robinson hopes, that kind of vibrancy could spread.

Robinson says an annual survey her organization conducts every January shows the campaign does seem to be making a difference.

"A total of 24.3 per cent of businesses report that B.C. Buy Local Week itself improved sales. And 45 per cent of businesses report that public awareness of the importance of buying local has increased in the last year."