Sumter business leaders have been aware many residents still spend their retail dollars in bigger cities and online, but now they have data to back that up. Implementing solutions is the next step.
Educating the general public that e-commerce …
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Educating the general public that e-commerce isn't always cheaper and on the overall economic impact of spending locally will be part of that next step, according to Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce officials who spoke Friday.
Chamber President and CEO Chris Hardy said the agency's Small Business Council will look to build on discussion from a "Shop Local" panel at the recent annual Chamber retreat in Myrtle Beach. Hardy was on that panel with Donny Hines, owner of Hines Furniture; Chris McKinney, executive director of Sumter-based Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments; and Vince Johnson, publisher of The Sumter Item.
McKinney said he had a colleague at another regional COG in the state run a retail sales marketplace profile report on Sumter County with software from ESRI, a leading economic research database firm.
The report, shown during the panel discussion, detailed millions of dollars in consumer retail spending made outside Sumter County annually by Sumter residents.
If more spending was done by Sumterites locally in a retail industry subsector than they spent outside the county, then that subsector had a "surplus." In contrast, if Sumter residents spent more money outside the county - such as in Richland or Florence counties - than in Sumter in a particular retail subsector, then that one had a "leakage."
Hardy identified top retail subsectors for leakage sales outside the county as food services and drinking places, furniture and home furnishings stores, building materials/garden equipment and supply stores, gasoline stations and other general retail establishments, such as clothing and clothing accessories stores.
More gas station sales outside Sumter than inside the county could be attributed to Sumter residents who commute outside of the county for work, Hardy said. Leakage for food and drinking establishments is likely due to more choices in those categories in Columbia or Florence, McKinney added.
Many other purchases could be internet sales purchases to individuals' homes, Hardy said, given the convenience of shopping with smartphones and other devices in today's digital world. (He noted that online purchases via Walmart and Lowe's that are picked up locally at those stores are credited to the store.)
Hardy said a Small Business Council program needs to target those top subsectors for leakage and try to educate the public on the broad economic impact of shopping locally and "that it's more than just that one business getting and making a sale."
"There is so much more of an economic impact that has a domino effect," Hardy said. "It's a matter of income, jobs and goes far beyond the small way that people look at it because they just don't know."
As far as the internet, he said he thinks it's important for Sumter businesses to have a web presence, even if it's social media, and to be consistent with it to be competitive.
Hines, who is on the chamber's Executive Committee, said many younger people have the mindset that it's cheaper to shop online as opposed to in store - which is not true many times, he said.
He said store owners in the furniture and home furnishings industry like himself are restricted online to only advertise at "Minimum Advertised Pricing" (MAP) levels, where retailers can't go below a certain price point per agreements with manufacturers.
"But, once customers are in the store or have contact with the store, then it's 'game on.' You can do whatever you want," Hines said. Like bring prices down.
That's why when the consumer shops locally in a store, they can save a lot of money and also have a service locally, he added.
Hines said he had a great example recently where a young military couple from Shaw Air Force Base was looking online on e-commerce company Wayfair for a Howard Miller clock. The online price was $2,299 with "free shipping" to your front door, he said, and the couple was planning to buy it.
"Luckily, they came into my store and we had the same clock right there at the doorway," Hines said. "Our everyday price in the home, after paying sales tax, was $1,799. And, we set the clock up for them at no added charge. That's huge, and it took a lot of folks by surprise when I mentioned it at the retreat. It was an eye-opener. Don't assume things are cheaper because you see it online."
He added it's critical for the general public to be aware when there is retail spending leakage outside the county. It's a tax base loss locally, which translates to any type of government services offered to residents, including parks and other amenities.
"Any time we keep those dollars here local on spending," Hines said, "that just makes it a much better, more powerful tax base, which is what supports our community and makes our livelihood a lot more comfortable through schools, through parks, whatever it is."
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