Marlborough is quite a geographically isolated region, where buying local can mean more than just supporting the local economy. Although the spendour of the Sounds and the majestic vistas of Molesworth are tourist drawcards, the reality is they only help to highlight Marlborough's isolation. Although Wellington and Nelson are both physically close, the former is separated from Marlborough by a rather notorious and sometimes treacherous body of water, and the latter by a mountain range and areas that can be prone to flooding. The Kaikoura earthquake brought home just how tenuous our link to the rest of New Zealand can be, and today's nationwide storms are just another reminder. Maintaining a thriving local Marlborough business community is about more than parochial pride, it also helps provide diversity and resilience that can be vital in times of crisis. It also helps with community building.
Globalisation and buying local solutions to different problems
Over recent decades there has been a trend towards centralisation of production to achieve economies of scale, with the extreme end being globalisation, where in some cases countries lose whole industries to others that can produce more efficiently. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes large scale concentrated production can not only be more efficient financially, but can also result in more efficient usage of earth's scarce resources compared to numerous small producers. The down side of concentration of production in a few locations globally or nationally is when disruption to supply chains occurs. In this case, widely distributed, local provision of goods and services is essential for community resilience. Having access to locally produced essentials such as food can help protect isolated communties like Marlborough in case of natural or human induced disasters. It's possible to wait for a few weeks for the latest gadget, but food is very much a different story. For people with environmental concerns, some locally produced products and services can also benefit from lower carbon emissions due to less transport, and potentially less packaging.
Marlborough has several initiatives to promote local businesses, but there's always more that can be done, whether you're a consumer or a local business owner yourself. The Marlborough Farmers Market every Sunday at A&P Park is a great place to discover local edible produce, while the Marlborough Artisan Market on Saturdays in the Blenheim CBD provides a diverse range of small businesses the opportunity to showcase their goods and services. The Marlborough Art Society and a number of private galleries around Marlborough provide exposure for local artists. Perhaps more likely to appeal to established businesses due to the membership fee, the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce runs regular networking events for local businesses.
You're reading this blog post as a result of a local Marlborough business. Marlborough Online itself isn't a business in itself as such; it's owned and operated by Create IT, a local IT services business run by Chris Cookson that has been around since 2002. Marlborough Online is effectively subsidised by paid work providing IT support, developing websites, and occasionally photography, so I'd like to thank local businesses that use my services, as indirectly, they're supporting Marlborough Online.
One of the things I have found that is rather surprising, is the number of local businesses that promote themselves as proudly Marlborough locals, but shop outside the region when it comes to various goods or services that they could source locally. I'm actively involved in website development, so this is one area I'm aware of. In some cases with an extremely low budget it may make sense to use a cheap DIY website builder services, however it does mean the money goes offshore. For digital services, theoretically shopping outside the region can work both ways, as it's possible to provide services outside the region, however there still seems to be a bit of a mentality that small towns can't provide high tech, which needs to be overcome. What does surprise me though is the number of times local businesses seem to fail to request local quotes. There are plenty of web designers and developers in Marlborough, so any business that's genuine about their commitment to the Marlborough community, should at least get some local quotes, and preferably from more than one business. If local businesses expect locals to support them, but don't seem to reciprocate, it can lead to a snowball effect of businesses shopping outside the region as they see their own revenues affected, and can justify it by "everyone's doing it".
Community building vs convenience
Shopping locally doesn't have to mean lack of modern convenience. The cost of e-commerce has reduced dramatically so that even small businesses can afford to have an online presence without spending a small fortune, and local businesses do need to keep up with technology. It's not particularly environmentally friendly or time efficient having to drive around town checking pricing from local vendors, or websites that say 'contact us for pricing' when national ones have all the details available in mobile friendly form at your fingertips. At least having product catalogues online, and preferably not just on Facebook where people get nagged to log in is a must in the 21st Century.
While online shopping is convenient, the personal touch matters as well, and the two can compliment each other. Checking prices and product details online is convenient, but collecting from a real person can provide a community building experience. Quick access to pricing is one thing, but making contact with someone who knows their products and is interested in their customers is another, and there's a place for both. I've had some very rewarding conversations with local merchants where I've learnt things that I simply wouldn't pick up shopping online. There's still a place for the personal touch where it's possible to engage with people who know their business.
Something I'm doing through Marlborough Online to try to help with buying local is offering a Marlborough directory of businesses and other organisations. This is for my own use as much as anyone. I want an easy way to find a list of local businesses in a given category, without having to log in to some form of social media. I've had this for a few years but it had been neglected and was out of date, but I've significantly improved it and I'm working to ensure all listings are up to date. I'm offering this using a 'freemium' model, ie anyone can have a listing, however I'll provide more features for paid listings. This helps ensure anyone can list their business, but also provides a potential source of revenue for me to maintain and improve this website. The directory isn't just for businesses either, and I'm happy to list clubs and non-profit groups too.
Marlborough Online Editor