Anyone who has been reading articles on Embrace Niagara is probably aware that when Katie and I came to Niagara, we came here to embrace our new community and do what we could to promote it and create awareness.
So, when the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce approached our company, High Concept Media, to sit on a council and contribute ideas dedicated to helping our retail sector, we immediately said YES.
WHAT MOTIVATED THIS?
It all began last year when the news out of Buffalo, New York indicated a 6 million dollar state surplus. This was generally attributed to an increase in spending from cross-border shopping, particularly from Niagara and the GTA. These events coincided with a number of Niagara retailers closing shop and others approaching the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce and reporting their worst year on record. Our region was having an economic crisis because the residents were choosing to spend millions of dollars on the same goods across the border.
This caused Walter Sendzik and Kithio Mwanzia of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce to put out a cry for help.
They immediately reached out to the local marketing community hopeful that they could create a strategy and message to help the Niagara community understand the value that the dollar has when choosing to spend it locally.
The group included: Bill Janzen (Future Access), Ignacio Segovia (Social Interaction), Jim Kalogerakos (180 Marketing), Larry Anderson (Trigger Strategies), Luc Courtois (180 Marketing), Tiffany Howes (Electric Jam), and myself, Dan McKinnon (High Concept Media).
We met 5 times between September and November. Our goals became clear pretty early on:
- Create a campaign to help increase awareness about the ramifications of taking our local shopping dollars outside the region
- Create a voluntary pledge for people who want to make a commitment to help their neighbours and local businesses
- Attach no stigma or guilt, just proving reasons this might matter to you to keep more of your spending here
- As local retailers become partners, start adding rewards in the form of real incentives and savings to those that make the pledge
1 LESS TRIP
We decided to build the campaign around taking one less trip across the border. We were determined to make this a commitment that anyone who wanted to could easily make.
The other major components of the 1 Less Trip campaign are that is the beginning of a long-term initiative focused on education (such as the infographic) and the incorporation of social media encourages additional conversation on the topic of cross-border shopping.
All of the initial marketing components were built around a 1lesstrip.com logo (concepts by Electric Jam and developed by 180 Marketing), marketing assets by 180 Marketing and High Concept Media; video, banners and print ads (180 Marketing) and the infographic and website (High Concept Media).
The first phase launched in April and has been greeted with enthusiasm by retail partners, media and local groups and politicians. The work has just started as a comprehensive Reward Program is developed, more retail partners are coming on board every day and more information will be shared with the public.
WHO SHOULD TAKE THE PLEDGE?
So, what do I think?
I think we have made some crucial first steps. In watching and listening to the initial comments and conversation, I have heard lots of good things, but there have been some naysayers too.
First off, I think it is absolutely worth emphasizing that this campaign in NOT about giving up shopping and visiting the States. Most of us in a border community have personal connections (friends, family, memories) associated with going to the USA. We have enjoyed a peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship with our neighbours (neighbors) to the south for over two centuries. We love to go on visits, purchase goods exclusive to their country and partake in unique destinations and cultural experiences. We should keep doing that!
Secondly, this pledge is meant to be voluntary, and we realize that during these tough economic times, there are people that have to do whatever they can to save a few dollars just to make it to the next paycheque. Those are not the people we anticipated taking the pledge.
The point is, there are plenty of times people make the trip across the border and if they took a few minutes to search locally they may very well find the product they are looking for that is competitive to an American price. Once you take into account the cost of gas for the trip and the time it will take, it may actually cost more than purchasing it locally.
UNDERSTANDING THE COST OF BUYING IN CANADA
I am not an economics scholar. However, I have lived in border communities for the bulk of my lifetime. I also have a unique perspective that comes from having lived 17 years of my adult life in the US.
One of the major things I have heard from a vocal minority is that they buy in the States because the Canadian retailers are gouging them.
There are some things you need to understand about that comment.
We have less that 1/10th the population of the US, as a result, American manufacturers and distributors enjoy a cost savings associated with that scale.
We don’t make some of your favourite products here in Canada, so there is often another middle man, perhaps customs brokers, potential duties and tariffs, and additional transportation costs associated with bringing many of these products into our retailer’s shelves. In many cases this means a higher Canadian price doesn’t offer the same profit margin their American competitor would enjoy with the lower cost.
The Canadian government does take a bigger piece of the pie, in many cases to help subsidize our dairy farmers or an industry that we don’t want to fade away and leave us with no recourse but to depend on imports to feed ourselves in the future.
THE SOCIAL COST OF INVESTING IN CANADA
No matter what your politics are, in Canada we have different priorities. Free medical immediately comes to mind. Twelve years ago while living in Arizona, I took a hard crash on my mountain bike that resulted in an horrendous injury to my left shoulder — bone, muscle, tendon and tissue damage — that resulted in 2 major surgeries and a lifetime of chronic shoulder and back issues. My portion of the cost for that injury was over $26,000. How many people in Canada have heart attacks, give birth, fight cancer or break a bone? You would have to pay that extra dollar on milk thousands of times just to pay for one of those hospital visits. And that is only one of our social programs.
There is also the question of the jobs you and your neighbours have. Recently, I heard a teacher making comments about why they shop across the border, I have to be honest, I couldn’t relate to them. As a school teacher, their entire career and benefits and those of their colleagues are paid for by the tax dollars of their neighbours. The kids they are paid to teach have parents running businesses locally and working locally — I would think that would be some social incentive to buy groceries locally even if it costs a few dollars more.
We have a great community and if we want to have a variety of food, goods and services to remain in Niagara we should really try to find a way to support our neighbours every chance we can. If you can relate to this, I really urge you to take the pledge and then find a way to a make a decision to take one less trip because it can mean so much if enough of us decide to make the commitment.
JUST THE FACTS
1 Less Trip is a community effort involving local Chambers of Commerce, municipalities, retail partners and media partners to share information in an attempt to motivate the Niagara community to take the pledge to make 1 less trip across the border and spend that money locally.
You can take the PLEDGE here.