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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

Don't Rule Out Buying Local
but only if you get a better product or service

By Paul Tomori
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 18:09:48 (EDT)

One thing that I learned many years ago playing in a band is that heading into another town always made us seem more impressive to the audience just by virtue of the fact that we were out-of-towners. You would think that the locals in your own hometown would appreciate you more... and while you had the support of close friends and family there, the element of rendering the audience a bit starstruck was reserved for times when we hit the road. Not to say, we were ever stars. Far from it. However, you could see a little bit more reverence in the eyes of some people say in Montreal when they knew you came "all the way" from Niagara. Had our talent improved as we crossed the Ontario-Quebec border? Nope. Did we actually perform better outside our locale? Doubtful... At some out of town gigs, we saw crowds inspired into fits of stage diving and other surrenders to reckless abandon. I remember thinking that we never could have experienced such a thing back home. But why?

I have hopefully graduated to upward mobility from those gritty days bombing up and down the Trans-Canada highway in search of inner greatness and outward accolades. Yet, I still see the same psychological phenomenon in the staid conservative business world I operate. When we pitch a contract to an out of town prospect, there seems to be an extra level of awe or respect given us just by virtue of the fact that we came from a faraway place. Maybe the presumption is that to have come so far geographically, we must be good at what we do?! Hard to say. It's funny nonetheless.

Sometimes, high quality services and products ARE located outside your locale. Sometimes you have to pay to get them delivered over long distances. Sometimes it's really worth it. However, this fact of occasional higher quality seems to get generalized to all things out of town. What it comes down to is that whether you have a local bias or a "not made here" bias, when you are buying something, the biases should be kept in check. Set your criteria. And establish ways to measure the relative advantages and disadvantages so that your final decision is as objective as possible.

Easier said than done.

This concept leads me to consider my own biases. Is imported San Pellegrino water really any better than filtered local water? Or is it just a self-deception to drink the stuff? Is wine imported from Italy or France really better than Niagara's own? In a blind taste test, could I even tell those imports apart from the top-of-line local wines? I know. I know. The best imported wine is going to blow away the worst local wine (and vice versa), so you have to compare apples to apples... or strawberries to strawberries, but let's say you pick a really nice local Merlot and compare it to a similarly produced import. Would the import even be better? Yellowtail, from Australia, was introduced in 2001 as an "every person's" wine. It was designed to be sweeter, not too expensive and definitely not too intimidatingly sophisticated. It had simplistic marketing that harkened to the rugged outback. It became the top selling wine in North America beating out all Napa Valley, Okanagan and Niagara wines. Seriously, was it really better? Or was the marketing just more carefully focussed on people who didn't normally drink wine because they felt other wines were just too complicated? Did Yellowtail play on the "not made here" favoritism bias? I bet I could find a comparable wine from a winery within 20 miles of where I live. Marketing has a way of contributing to a bias... if you let it.

Nothwithstanding the qualitative considerations outlined above, there is also an environmental concern. If we must transport vast cargos of bottled water from Europe in order to have a more "distinguished" dining experience here in the heart of North America, then what are the pollution ramifications? We "pay the price", but we rarely "count the cost."

This past summer, we enjoyed strawberry season by buying local fare. With an increasing number of greenhouses, it's difficult, but not impossible to find summer produce grown locally in the middle of winter. In season, it's downright silly to buy imported produce, yet people still do... for reasons cited above.

For one, local berries, while smaller are just better. Sweeter. Juicier. You can't get sweet juicy berries from South America all the way here without unacceptable spoilage, so they grow them to be tough. Those berries have been genetically modified through unnatural selection to be more rugged, but not necessarily more appetizing. They are made tough and large to make transport costs more efficient. Taste and texture as priorities have given way to transport utility. No doubt you have seen those monstrously big strawberries that look like something out of a science lab. Aren't they terrible?

For two, if you buy locally, the distance the produce has travelled is much shorter. Sure, the stuff will spoil faster, but who cares. It's so damn good, you'll eat it sooner!

By the same token, there are definitely consumer luxuries to be found in some imported items. Teas... clothing... and yes some wines. It takes discriminating attention and an absence of bias to choose local over import... or vice versa.

As a supplier of internet services to the hospitality industry, it is conceivable that we can sell our services far and wide. In the early days, we had to fight the biased "we don't buy local" mentality in order to get our foot in the door. All of our potential prospects locally figured they needed to pay triple to some agency from the big city, Toronto. The quality was generally, but not always poorer and the response-times were usually low and overall customer service was often truly lacking. It took us a lot of years to overcome the inherent biases against us being local and it forced us to come up with products that were so much better than what could be obtained elsewhere for higher fees! It's funny, by having to work harder to prove our salt on a local level, we became competitive in the bigger outer world. We actually now have products and services that can go head to head with those of large external competitors.

As we consider ways and niches in which to roll out our services to a wider geography, it will be nice to have the "out of town" bias actually working for us even if that bias is a little strange, though we are not going to count on that bias being present. We are hoping to find sophisticated prospects who will cut through all bias and measure us by our merits... or lack thereof. At least in our case, we shall continue to strive to prove that we will be one of those exceptions where the remote supplier really is better.

Local strawberries. Small, but juicier and sweeter.

Imported strawberries from the labs of Dr. Frankenstein. HUGE, but tough and lacking juiciness and sweetness

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