Zak Kline of A.I.R. Lawn Care in Rockville, MD
As small business owners and marketers in the Green Industry, it pays to know about the Independent We Stand movement started by Stihl Inc. that has taken a grassroots approach in many of your local communities. Independent We Stand helps independently owned businesses connect with their communities and educate them on the benefits of buying local. The movement offers any small business owner the tools and knowledge to make those connections and benefit their business.
Supporting your community and the cause
The Independent We Stand movement has had 87,303 people—both individuals pledging to support the movement and businesses that have added themselves to the listing—join the movement since it began in 2010.
By signing up for Independent We Stand, you are agreeing to support a cause that is supporting you. You should not only work with the movement, but also support individuals and organizations in your local community. Many small businesses are already involved in local causes, helping to spread awareness of the benefits of having independent businesses and their owners in the community.
Just starting out in the landscaping business, joining Independent We Stand proved to be a great opportunity for Zak Kline of A.I.R. Lawn Care in Rockville, MD. He was able to connect with customers and suppliers. Connections aside, he wanted to show his belief in the power of supporting local businesses. He illustrates that the next generation still values the "mom and pop shop".
"I really see the benefits of how local businesses contribute to the local economy," says Kline. "Whether it is through tax dollars or community involvement, it shows a positive effect on the well being of others. I try to use local services professionally and personally."
Kline purchases and services his equipment through the local dealer, and gets business materials printed at the local printing company. Independent business owners like Kline can encourage other businesses to become members of Independent We Stand and work together in their local community to educate on the benefits of supporting the local business. By teaming up, the message becomes that much stronger. You can also approach other businesses in your area that have joined Independent We Stand for tips on how to use the message in your marketing.
"I think we are growing that awareness through Independent We Stand, the local chamber of commerce and community shop-local campaigns," says Jim Mayfield of Rainbow Ag in Ukiah, CA. "We are beginning to really educate the public on what it means to support local independent businesses and why that is important for your local economy, friends and neighbors."
Another dealer, Ralph Helm of Ralph Helm Inc. in Elgin and Crystal Lake, FL, thinks the education is important not only for your potential customers, but also your own staff. Helping them to make an educated choice with their purchases is your responsibility too.
"We try to encourage our employees to support small business," says Ralph Helm. "When they say they shop at Wal-Mart, I explain to them that shopping at Wal-Mart isn’t necessarily bad because they employ local people to work there, but there are also local businesses that sell a lot of the same things, and if they don’t get the customers they are not going to be around much longer."
Independent We Stand tools, resources and benefits
The four tiers of Independent We Stand memberships offer various kinds of resources and levels of visibility. Each company that becomes a member of Independent We Stand is listed in a directory of independent businesses searchable by consumers seeking a product or service in their area. Each listing must be applied for, and is personally approved by an Independent We Stand representative to ensure that only independent businesses are listed.
The movement works to not only educate consumers on the benefits of supporting local business, but also educates independent business owners on those benefits and how to communicate them effectively with their customers.
"Dealers may not have the time, or haven’t even thought about doing their own research on the benefits of supporting small business," says Mayfield. "They are thinking about business all day long, and an outside resource reminds you to promote and keep that message fresh. The independent movement is becoming very strong. Customers are beginning to understand that dollars spent at an independent store is much more effective in their community than a dollar spent at a national chain."
As a member of Independent We Stand, there are countless resources at the independent business owner's disposal. There are many marketing materials for the movement available, as well as a logo business owners are free to use in their own marketing. A logo door decal shows customers you support independent businesses as they enter your door or see your vehicle. As the movement grows and the logo becomes better known, it will be even more powerful on those marketing materials.
"It becomes a catalyst for us as an independent dealer to understand and utilize our independent status as a tool to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace," says Mayfield. "We use it to separate us from the chain stores and really talk about some of the extra value of why people should buy at independently owned businesses."
As his business expands next year, Kline plans to take full advantage of the marketing materials available. Getting the Independent We Stand message out helps him to not only show his support for small business, but gain a little more support from his community as well.
"Next year I will devote more time on marketing to generate new business as well as push the Independent We Stand message," says Kline. "It's really great because people appreciate me spreading that message for them, but it also spreads the message that I offer a local independent product to the community."
Mayfield has seen the same benefits. Due to his active work in the community and support of the Independent We Stand movement, he is often approached by individuals who recognize him from his marketing and appearances at events like the 4-H auction. In the streets and in his store, individuals have commented on his work and thanked him for his efforts.
"They may not know me, but they know the localization work I do. Whenever we are out and about in the town we hear from people that say they appreciate what we do," explains Mayfield. "Does that sell more power equipment? I think the answer is yes."