Buy Vancouver starting to pay off

More businesses encouraged to join effort aimed at getting consumers to shop locally

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Buy Vancouver

What: A volunteer collection of local business owners that have joined forces to support and market their own “buy local” movement.

What’s new: The group has joined the American Independent Business Alliance, a nonprofit national networking conduit that supports 80 buylocal movements.

Web:; Facebook: Search for buyvancouverusa.

Despite Vancouver's proximity to sales-tax-free Oregon, its "buy local" movement has spread since its launch early last year by a handful of businesses.

Buy Vancouver should continue to distribute the message to bring more businesses on board, said Jeff Milchen, co-founder and co-director of the American Independent Business Alliance, based in Bozeman, Mont.

"If many, many businesses in Clark County are doing this, people will see it and it will start to catch on," said Milchen, who delivered the keynote address at a brainstorming workshop held by the group Buy Vancouver on Monday at The Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver. Milchen called for consistent marketing as one of the keys to getting businesses on board -- including retailers, restaurants, service businesses -- and their patrons.

Milchen's presentation also featured examples from some of the 80 buy local groups across the country that are members of the nonprofit American Independent Business Alliance. Successful campaigns start with clear messaging that educates consumers on the potential economic benefits of spending their dollars within the local community.

A 2012 study commissioned by the national Institute for Local Self Reliance found that 48 percent of the revenue spent in local businesses is recirculated through the local economy, compared with 13.6 percent of the money spent at chain retailers, said Milchen.

"When it's executed well, it (buy local) can work in any economy," he said, adding that successful campaigns gain strength in numbers.

For example, businesses in Portland, Maine, launched the Portland Buy Local campaign with 20 members in 2006. The group has since grown to 350 members.

Those member businesses display Portland Buy Local window decals, posters, countertop thank-you cards, T-shirts, bumper stickers and other materials in their businesses. They also incorporate the Buy Local logo in their marketing and advertising.

Buy Vancouver's movement already has its own logo, website and Facebook page, emblems that could change as the group brings on more members, said Mary Sisson, one of its founders and co-owner of Kazoodles, a Vancouver toy store.

She said Buy Vancouver paid $900 to join the American Independent Business Alliance. They did so for several reasons, including the chance to network with other national buy local movements and to exchange ideas and marketing materials.

The American Independent Business Alliance offers graphics on its website to help members launch their own buy local campaigns.

"We figured, 'It's already been done, so why not tap into that?'" Sisson said.

Between 30 and 50 people attended Monday's workshop at the Kiggins. Among the small crowd were representatives of other local groups, including Made in Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.

Some stayed on to discuss whether the group should rename itself to include Clark County in its title, instead of Vancouver.

"We're not glued to having Vancouver in the name," Sisson said.

Buy Vancouver charges $25 for membership, which includes a window decal for the business, website and Facebook exposure and regular emails about group activities.

Although the group's numbers are small so far, Vancouver bookstore owner Becky Milner said her business has benefited from the exposure. For example, when members of the group clicked "like" on each other's Facebook pages, they saw their own Facebook "like" columns grow from 300 friends to 1,400 friends in a couple of weeks, one member said.

"The best thing about it is we really support each other," Milner said.