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New alliance promotes locally owned business, benefits of keeping dollars in area

Janine Vaughn, owner of Revival Lighting, is a member of the Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance, a group that wants to let people know that locally owned brick-and-mortar  businesses like hers can often  compete on  price while offering better customer service than  online retailers. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Janine Vaughn, owner of Revival Lighting, is a member of the Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance, a group that wants to let people know that locally owned brick-and-mortar businesses like hers can often compete on price while offering better customer service than online retailers. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Mariah McKay likes to tell people about locally owned businesses they might enjoy patronizing.

The publicity could help keep a neighborhood business in operation and even raise local standards of living, she says.

McKay is the executive director of the new Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance, which launched in July with about three dozen members. The alliance’s goal is to connect local consumers to local companies, keeping those dollars turning over in the greater Spokane-North Idaho economy.

Shifting even a little bit of consumer spending helps build a more robust local economy, McKay said.

Spending a $100 at a local business keeps about $67 in the immediate area, according to the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies of Oakland, California, which promotes shopping local. Spending $100 at a big-box store, however, only contributes about $32 to the local economy, the alliance said.

“We want folks, instead of unconsciously clicking online, to think about their shopping habits,” McKay said. “We want people to know there are local deals that can match or beat the cost of products from multinational corporations.”

The Spokane metro alliance is working on a directory and marketing efforts that will help consumers find independently owned businesses to support in the Spokane area and North Idaho. The alliance is affiliated with the American Independent Business Alliance out of Bozeman which helps more than 85 affiliates with technical assistance and “buy local” campaigns for their communities.

In the meantime, the Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance is growing its membership. It’s open to all independently owned companies, not just retailers, McKay said. Individuals also can join to get access to deals and coupons at local businesses.

Janine Vaughn, the owner of Revival Lighting at 14 W. Main St., said she joined the alliance because she likes the group’s focus on making a difference in the community, not just growing profit margins. Her 19-year-old company employs 10 people, and she offers health insurance and a 401(k) plan to employees as part of efforts to support living wages.

Revival Lighting sells vintage and reproduction lighting fixtures. Like other independent retailers, Vaughn said she faces the misperception from potential customers that they can buy products for less online.

“We have to educate the consumer that we can beat online prices,” Vaughn said. “And when they buy from us, they get great service, too.”

Vincent Peak, a co-founder of Share Farms, joined to network with other independent business owners and find new ways to connect with customers.

Peak, 31, and his co-workers developed a free mobile app that helps people find farmers markets and growers in their area for fresh produce. He’s a Spokane-area native who returned here after a stint in the Marine Corps. Peak said he’s part of a group of young local entrepreneurs who are pursuing their passions by developing companies with a social responsibility side.

“I like the idea of driving more revenue to our locally owned businesses,” he said. “We’re investing in our neighbors.”

The alliance is planning a “shop local” campaign for this fall, which has led to a measurable increase in sales at independently owned companies in other communities, McKay said.

Eventually, the alliance will have a map out featuring members, and even a jobs board on its website to advertise openings at locally owned companies, she said.