We all heard and read the slogan online, Shop local because… Most of them are correct in theory but not in deed. How many of us shop local is anyone’s guess, but if you look at all the businesses that have closed down over the past 20 years I would say it is much lower than we might think. Why, because everyone wants to flock to the big business for lower prices and less than adequate customer service? No, it is not, most people deep down want to support the local business and pride themselves on doing so, so what has happened over the last 50 years? It is simply money, money and more money controlled by greed, and this kind of motivation can get things done it can also get laws passed, and create change and not always for the better.
How about we take a walk through memory lane, I was born in the early ’70s and it was a much simpler life back then. I recall growing up and there were many small often called ‘Mom & Pop” owned and operated business. That was the predominated way to do business back then, as soon as you walked in the door you were in the head office, you were often talking to the CEO of that company. Let’s take gas stations for example back then, they all sold gas and you didn’t even have to pump it yourself for free like you do today. So someone had a job to do that and often a cashier in the store part where you paid for your gas or goods if they sold any other items. The one thing that stands out most in my mind was almost all of them had a full-time mechanic on duty; let that sink in for a minute. So just the small business that operated in the ’70-’80s employed more people and not just minimum wage jobs either but skilled labour. I can recall getting my first real job at 15 years old because I hated going to school so I got what they called a work permit at the time so the company could legally hire me. Many local small businesses on that day had employed many local people. I can recall the small hotels that were along the road often outside a town and sometimes in the middle of now where they were owned and operated by local families and had employees within the community. There were very few of the large hotel chains at that time that has now destroyed these establishments. There were a vast number of small locally owned shops and stores that would often give young teenagers a part-time job or get them through university/college. Local businesses often supplied the products that they made/grew/produced to be sold in these stores; it was truly a local backed economy. Thus the term, ‘Small business is the backbone of our economy’. That was when that phrase was coined. I miss those days, and it grieves me to see what it has come to in only a few decades. .
So what happened in the ’90s that brought us to where we are today? Well, it started before the ’90s but most of it became apparent at that time. Companies that were already large and some that were well on their way at that point becoming rich and powerful moved out of the big cities into the smaller areas. There unscrupulous and ruthless business tactics bankrupted most of the small locally owned business. It didn’t happen overnight it took decades to bring it to this point. They secured their monopoly by either setting up shop and selling products produced overseas for a fraction of the cost or offering the hold outs a much higher value of what their company was worth. We don’t have to look far to see examples of what I am saying here, just look at all the large businesses that have taken over in your area. Plus, media outlets and newspapers, hotels, trucking companies, almost all companies, chains, brands, etc are now owned and bought up by larger companies that have created a consolidation of power and control. The power shift became centralized and it is no longer in the hands of local business owners or communities. On top of that big money could lobby the government to pass laws and legislation around starting a small business and make it much more difficult for individuals with fewer means to open a business in the first place. This is just in a nutshell because I could spend hours writing about this, with the how and why we were taking over by big businesses.
When we opened our company ‘Chuck’s Bean Burgers’ we had to go through more red tape, laws and bureaucratic nonsense at levels that I didn’t know existed. We wanted to sell frozen products in stores, sounds simple right? Wrong, CFIA gives you masses amounts of information in document form they are often so hard and confusing to understand. You can spend hours reading that and still have no idea what you are to do. There is so much red tape to opening a food business that I wonder why we even did it in the first place. From the time we wanted to open till the time we could sell our products took 6 months all said and done. That was only because we took routes to make it easier on us, we didn’t meet the goal we wanted to at that point as we wanted to sell in stores at that time. However we ran across problems with that idea, almost all the food stores were owned by Sobeys or Loblaw’s and you had to go through their approval process to get your products in their stores. It was almost impossible just to get anyone to respond to us from these companies. However we did gain the attention of Sobeys and we thank the person who made that possible, they know who they are. We had great excitement about this idea at first however once we learned of all the requirements for us to sell in their stores it was simply unattainable for us at this time, we simply do not have the money required to meet their requirements. So we meet the legal requirements by law however the store sets its requirements, and if you cannot meet that you do not get to sell in their stores. Do you see the meaning behind why I said earlier that the control in now centralized and not local? The personal touch and that local feeling of giving back to your community have been dismantled and sold off to the highest bidders. We no longer control what happens in our local communities. The thing that annoys me the most is if we could rent the facilities here in Cape Breton to meet the requirements as we cannot afford to build our faculties at this time, we could have employed around 10 people or more by now because we could have had our product all across Canada. However no one has such faculties here that we can rent, and if you think it is just a commercial kitchen we need you are not grasping what is required. Never the less this has forced us to take a different road.
It was very hard for us to find locally owned stores anymore that would sell our products some did, and that was great. The hardest part was trying to find stores that were owned and operated in the local community. They are very few of them now; most have sold out or have been purchased by larger businesses.
Also as a business that sells food, we can only buy our products from government inspected or approved sources, which just happens to be all these large companies I am talking about, funny about that? If you make or supply any type of food for sale to consumers you know how hard and long of a process it is to get approved before you can sell. You also know you have to be careful of where you purchase your products because if they are not approved sources you could get shut down. Or worse if someone falls ill to your products and it was found that you were buying from unapproved sources you could be liable. So when people ask me do you buy your supplies local to make your bean burgers? That becomes a loaded question. The answer is yes we buy from local stores that are owned by big businesses and where they get their product from is only from government-approved sources. The reason why I don’t buy from the local farmer down the street is because of regulations plain and simple. If you get sick from one of my products because you wanted to feel all warm and fuzzy about supporting local I could be shut down and held liable. I like the idea of buying local and do it for personal reasons all the time. Small businesses are also presented with another problem here as well. Large companies have got the consumer use to lower and unrealistic prices that cannot be offered at a local level. So even when we are sourcing our products from the cheaper sources we still find consumers to be upset or unwilling to purchase the products as prices are too high for many of them (because I do not work for $2 a day as some are forced to do in third world countries), just image how high it would be if we purchased all locally as they often cost much higher. The 4 pack of burgers for Chicken we sell at about $12.00 now, however, if I purchase all my chicken local would you pay $24.00 or more for 4 burgers…let’s be honest you know the answer.
It is a brave new global economy out there that sucks, you might think you’re buying local but you don’t know where products came from. Most large box stores and we all know who they are, 90% or more of their products are made in China or some other small country for a fraction of the cost we can make it. So guess what happens less stuff is now manufactured here, which means fewer local jobs. Why would they pay for it to be done here when they can ship it from overseas for less than we can make it? I am not sure anyone in Canada or the USA even knows how to manufacture a lot of these products today. We have become dependent on other countries to make our TV’s, computers, electronics, cell phones, etc. Just imagine if the rest of the world said we are not selling any more cell phones to Canada or the USA. How would that affect us?
Are you buying local? We need to redefine local in this global economy. Why? Because you might be making the product in the local area but your supplies could have come from who knows where? The clothing you wear, the cars you drive, the cell phones you use, how many times do you call a company for service and get someone in another country?
The next time you see a local business person trying to sell their products do not be so hard on them about where they purchased the products, most of them, including myself we do the best we can within the requirements we are given. However, should you find yourself unable to contain your anger towards us for not always being able to support other local businesses? I only have one request, could you do it without the cell phone that was made in China, and could you also not wear any clothing that was not manufactured locally. Could you also stop driving that car that was made in another country, but wait you say my car make is made in North America, however, you will find the parts are made overseas; it only assembled in North America. Why you are at it research where that jewellery, makeup, and the oil and gas you use in your car comes from? The list goes on and on…
I am in no way trying to be judgmental or hard on anyone in the above paragraph. We all do it and we have to face those facts that are simply my point. In this global economy like it or not, we are all affected and forced into it in one way or the other. So if you cannot escape it how can you expect others to? Do we need to redefine what is local? Supporting local can be defined as supporting the person/business in the local area. Support them, they are local and more of their money will stay in the community. However, the days of 100% locally made products are over and we need to accept it. However should you feel that I am wrong, please leave a comment on this post with your computer, phone or tablet that was most likely made in China or some place overseas.