CITYWIDE — Santa Monica businesses are expecting improved sales after several years of decreased revenues, according to a survey of businesses participating in a local purchasing campaign.
The survey, conducted amongst 104 members of Santa Monica’s Buy Local campaign, showed that although 39 percent of participants counted poor sales as the single biggest problem facing their enterprise, over 70 percent are optimistic that sales will improve over the next 12 months.
The report comes against the backdrop of a regional economic report released last week by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation that predicted a thawing of the stalled economy and a decrease in California’s unemployment figures through 2013.
Local businesses are cautiously optimistic, said Jennifer Taylor, of the economic development division at City Hall.
“Certainly, the major growth industries are health care, education, tourism and hospitality and entertainment,” Taylor said. “Those are all things that Santa Monica is strong in. It’s good news for our local economy because our major employers fall into those categories.”
Retail businesses, however, have continued to suffer as money for non-essentials dried up during the prolonged recession.
It’s caused local businesses to seek out strategic ways to increase sales, including participation in Santa Monica’s Buy Local campaign, an almost three-year-old initiative that targets local businesses’ most valuable clientele — Santa Monicans.
“All businesses want to reach the customers they don’t have,” Taylor said. “There are 88,000 residents in Santa Monica. Certainly, an opportunity to raise awareness that we have all these great businesses here is good for local entrepreneurs.”
Buy Local uses a variety of marketing strategies to get the word out on local businesses, including sidewalk sales, social media advertising campaigns, websites to identify the 450 participating Buy Local businesses and the Buy Local Expo, a weekend of promotions and events that syncs with the Los Angeles Marathon.
Businesses use the Buy Local brand through social media like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to customers, and engage in group marketing and advertising purchases to drive down the cost of solicitation.
Local purchasing campaigns became popular as municipalities tried to find ways to jumpstart their local economies, said Ira Kalb, an assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California and a Santa Monica resident.
The success of those campaigns is entirely dependent on how well promoters get the word out. So far, Kalb, a Santa Monica resident, hasn’t been sold on Buy Local.
“I haven’t heard of it,” Kalb said. “I walk from 26th Street and Montana (Avenue) twice a week at least to the promenade and I haven’t seen anything.”
A successful buy local campaign will find ways to reach consumers where they get their media, like social network sites, local media or even posters and banners where they live.
“People love to know that they’re not alone, and that attracts other people,” Kalb said. “If you tell people to buy local, no one listens to that. Do I get discounts? Will I meet a new business that I don’t know about? Can I sample food from restaurants? Questions like that, if answered yes, are effective.”
Business owners hope to answer all of those questions through the second Buy Local expo, which will take place March 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s expanded from last year to span the entire weekend and include promotions for St. Patrick’s Day.
“The message is that this is a strong partnership with Santa Monica and all of our Business Improvement Districts,” said Laurel Rosen, president of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. “You’ll see the messaging throughout the city. Anywhere they can get the message out, they will.”
According to the survey, business owners have been pleased by results of the Buy Local campaign, with almost half of participants rating the various initiatives as very effective or somewhat effective.
Businesses get out of it what they put into it, said Christina Norton, manager of Agabhumi Best of Bali, a retail store on Main Street.
“You can maximize it as much or as little as you want,” Norton said. “We take advantage of as many facets as possible.”