Thursday, August 4, 2011

What to Do When Local Stinks

When I decided to shop only in New Westminster for a year, I made an exception for my pits. Yep, my armpits. I can't use most antiperspirants and deodorants, even the all-natural kinds. They make my armpits all red, bumpy and itchy. So I don't smell, but I walk around all day scratching myself, which is probably just as unattractive as stinking. Some time ago I found a cream deodorant at Kiehl's. It's expensive, but it doesn't make me itch. I wasn't even sure how well it worked because it doesn't have a strong smell; I was just happy I wasn't itchy anymore.

But a couple of months ago I decided to try something I could buy in New West. I was hoping to save time (no more trips to Kiehl's in Vancouver) and money. I bought a made-in-Canada deodorant from Green Beaver, which was available at Donald's Market. That's when I figured out just how well the Kiehl's stuff works: when I saw (or rather, I've gotta say it, smelled) how poorly the Green Beaver stuff did.

The experience got me thinking about the risk involved with trying new products and services. It's a lot easier to stick with the tried-and-true than to try something new. For the sake of everyone I know, I have gone back to my Kiehl's. But I won't stop trying new stuff. I won't even abandon trying Green Beaver products.

While I've found more hits than misses in my local shopping, here's a few things I keep in mind to get the best shopping experience:

1. Ask for recommendations
Do some research. Ask your friends. Do an internet search. Check out sites like Yelp. For New Westminster specifically, go to Twitter and ask a question with the #newwest hashtag at the end. "Hey, does anyone in #newwest know where I can get a good haircut for curly hair?" is a question I asked and got several good recommendations. I picked one and found a stylist who really knows how to cut curly hair. (Sarah at In Style Hair Studio.)

2. Don't be harder on local products and businesses than on big brands/stores
I tried a vegan cupcake recently at the New West farmer's market and was super disappointed. It was gloppy and moist, not cake-like at all. The thought that popped into my mind was, "I'm never eating a vegan cupcake ever again, if this is what they taste like." My son however liked it and encouraged me to buy another one. So I did. The second cupcake was delicious: light and fluffy with yummy icing.

That taught me to give a new business or product a fair shot before I make up my mind. I think I used to judge small businesses more quickly and more harshly than big businesses, for reasons I'm not quite sure of.  After all, I do a lot of grocery shopping at Safeway and I don't always love everything I buy there, but that hasn't stopped me from shopping there. I keep that example in mind while shopping at smaller businesses. If I don't like one product a local merchant offers, I'm now willing to try another.  

3. Talk to the owner
Small business owners don't have several layers of management to go through to make a change. They can and do make decisions all the time at the direct request of customers. That's what happened when vegan blogger Melissa Balfour talked to the owners of Crepe Des Amis. She was hoping for the business owners to start making vegan crepe batter. As she describes on her blog, The Hungry Taurus, they went beyond that and created a whole vegan menu.

Imagine if you suggested to the person taking your order at McDonald's that they start serving a vegan "burger." What would happen? Absolutely nothing.