Meet one of the leading voices of Arizona’s “Buy local” movement through Local First Arizona | Rise Grind Repeat 099

Overview:

You know what the pandemic did to your business. Now imagine what it would have been like for you if your business is to help thousands of other businesses. Thomas Barr is vice president of business development for Local First Arizona. He says as soon as business emergency funds became available, Local First Arizona organized members for a letter-writing campaign to the governor saying, “We need federal aid for small businesses.”

Moving fast was critical because the bureaucratic hurdles are high. Arizona was one of the first states able to access federal disaster loans, Thomas says, “but we had to be on it right from the beginning.”

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| Rise Grind Repeat 099 |

00:00

The more we make conscious choices to shift our spending to more local businesses, the more the dollars are going to actually stay in the community and recirculate because we can’t even think of, you know, the law firm that’s here because they have clients in Arizona that exists because we spend money with those businesses that then have to hire a, let’s say custodial company to come in and clean their office. That wouldn’t exist if that firm wasn’t there.

00:35

On today’s episode of Rise, Grind, Repeat, we talked to Thomas from local first Arizona, about how their organization helped businesses navigate through the pandemic, and what the future looks like for local business. Let’s dive right in. Thomas, thank you so much for joining another episode of Rise, Grind, Repeat. I’m excited for this. This has been what two months in the making? longer, like four or five months, maybe? Yeah,

01:00

yeah. So I appreciate you coming in. And, again, I’m excited not just because it’s taking a while to get the schedule, but just kind of what you do with Local First, we’re all about just local business, the community and everything like that. And yeah, love to hear kind of, before we get into what Local First is, would love to just kind of hear a little bit of who you are, what your story is and what you do in your day to day.

01:21

Sure. Well, I’m thanks for having me on the show. I’m Arizona, born and raised in West Valley, Glendale kid went to high school, downtown Phoenix, and moved to where we’re at now in Tempe 15-16 years ago. So um, yeah, I love Arizona. I you know, I’m one of the few that are born and raised here. I think the statistic is 1/3 of people that live in Arizona, were actually born in Arizona. Yeah. You know, a lot of those Chicagoans and Midwesterners come here. Right, right, right. But yeah, I’ve always had a passion for this place, have been involved in the local music scene have been involved in lots of different community efforts for years and years. And when I joined local first eight years ago, now, it was just kind of the perfect fit for me, I was looking for something to kind of gel my passions for this place, and also, what I would call justice, which is a lot of the work that we do in fighting for the voice of small businesses and people that need us to advocate for them. So yeah, over the last eight years, I’ve I’ve grown within the organization and the organization has grown in the community. We’re the largest local business coalition in North America, we have over 3000 small businesses throughout the state that we have within our network that we provide education and resources to, but most importantly, a voice for. So we do everything from, you know, advocating for them and raising awareness about the importance of why you should support a local business rather than large corporation. But we also do a lot of work helping make small businesses more competitive. I always tell people, you know, I can say shop local all day long, but you don’t want to shop local, local sucks. So part of our job is making sure small businesses have great products, great service, online stores, you know, everything that you would expect as a person living in 2021. So we’ve got a team of 30 now that provide a wide variety of resources and programming to help develop Arizona to strong economy for everybody.

03:48

Now, that’s cool. Didn’t know that only a third of people are native here. I’m actually I grew up in Arizona as well get all Yuma moved up here right after I graduated. So yeah, there aren’t too many, many of us locals are natives here. Now, it’s really cool. What you do, though, I mean, it’s, it sounds like there, there’s a wide variety from, you know, helping console to getting businesses to just get out there more drive more local business, but I guess, what are your guys’s core values when it comes to local first?

04:17

Yeah, there’s many, I would say to name a few. One is entrepreneurship. We are a nonprofit organization that takes a very entrepreneurial approach to how we innovate to how we develop programs to how we work internally and externally in the community. And part of that is well a We were founded by an entrepreneur a lot of people know our founder kimberling, owner of stink weeds record store in central Phoenix, modified Arts in downtown Phoenix. So that’s kind of in our in our in our blood is an organization but also Our, you know, main constituents and people that we’ve served for 18 years now are entrepreneurs. So, you know, we have to be moving at the at the pace that they move, and we have to be thinking creatively and be adapting at all times to what’s going on in the world. So, I mean, just give the last year of COVID. And, you know, we couldn’t be sitting with our arms crossed, wondering, you know, what we’re gonna do, right, we had to be quick, figure it out, be responsive, help businesses figure it out. And so the approach that we take to everything is, you know, how can we as swiftly as possible, deliver the best resources we can in the community. Another, you know, core value that we have is just collaboration, working with as many people as we can, and bringing people together, you know, there’s a lot of cases where a lot of businesses or people, organizations get really competitive. And while that, you know, has to exist, we really believe in, you know, bringing as many people together as we can to, to get things done. So, you’ll see us, you know, partnering with other business organizations, you’ll see as partnering with people that complement what we do, you know, we we know, we’re not the experts on everything, so. So we really take that community minded herd approach to doing work throughout the entire state.

06:27

Now, that’s really cool. One thing you mentioned is I can sit here and say shop local, as much as you want. But if if, you know, it doesn’t cater to the public or anything like that, it’s tough to make that happen. I think one thing that’s very interesting, and I think what most people don’t think of is the economics behind it I was looking on, on your website, and you guys have an awesome breakdown of if you were to spend $1, you know, the local business, as opposed to, you know, a big corporation, how much actually stays in the local community? And, you know, most people’s biggest argument is, well, if I shop local, the small mom and pop shops, it’s going to cost a little bit more. But in turn, you’re really helping the community out a lot more, I guess, can you dive a little bit deeper into what that that, I guess, balances between how much stays in the community and why it’s so important to, to shop local?

07:10

Yeah. So in thinking about how, how dollars are spent, how you choose to spend your money, where you’re going to do it, you’ve got options all the time, right? You can stay at home, flip, open your laptop, spend everything at Amazon, if you want to like you, that is your choice, right. But what we really try to do is get people to think about the the impact that happens once you’ve spent that money. So if we were to think about if I was to, you know, take $5 and go buy a coffee at a national company, like Starbucks, which is the best chain out there, right? Like I, I literally can’t even sit here and bash that company, because they do so many great things, right? They, they get benefits their employees, they pay for their employees to go to college, they’re, you know, pretty active in most communities. They’re they’re in, right. But if I took that $5, and I bought my coffee at a local coffee shop, there’s a lot that’s different between those two things, right? I’m not just paying $5. And then it disappears. If I’m going to that local coffee shop, they’re not only just hiring people that are here, which Starbucks is also doing. They’re hiring a web developer, they’re hiring a graphic designer, they’re hiring a printing company, maybe an attorney, insurance agent, payroll service provider, accountants, like we could do this all day, right? Those are jobs. We never read about the newspaper. We never hear about on the news. And usually we don’t see as consumers. But those are what we call secondary jobs. That’s what actually makes an economy run, right? The second you go to that national brand, and you spend your money there, that money is going to corporate corporate headquarters somewhere else, right? It’s being what we’d call extracted out of the community, because there’s no single web developer or graphic designer or payroll service provider in Arizona, that Starbucks employees because they have a location on the street, right. And so the more we make conscious choices, to shift our spending to more local businesses, the more the dollars are going to actually stay in the community and recirculate because we can even think of, you know, the law firm that’s here because they have clients in Arizona that exists because we spend money with those businesses that then have to hire a, let’s say custodial company to come in and clean their office. That wouldn’t exist if that firm wasn’t there. So it’s all about economic recirculation of dollars. And it’s not just coffee. It’s where businesses source office supplies. It’s where the state of Arizona decides to procure contracts from. So it’s big, it’s small. It comes in different sizes and industries. And what we’re trying to do is really just change the conversation about how people think About the how the economy works. It’s not just this linear thing that happens, it’s actually a very multifaceted, complex thing.

10:08

Yeah, no, I completely agree. And going back to, it’s more expensive to shop local, the small business, but it’s if you really look at the economical impact on it, it’s, you know, you spend an extra dollar two on a cup of coffee. But as you mentioned, that goes out into so many other businesses where that goes, if you were to go to more of the Starbucks route or more of the corporations, and you don’t have those secondary businesses getting money, you have, you know, higher unemployment, which then you’re gonna have to maybe raise taxes. I mean, there’s a lot more cost that people don’t realize other than that single transaction that’s really happening. And I think, you know, you guys are doing such a great job communicating that and educating the community on that. And I think that’s a big piece that most people don’t realize. They just look at that one transaction, it’s more expensive, but it’s actually more expensive to go with the corporations because the money is leaving it less people working.

10:53

Yeah. And I mean, even on that point, most times, it’s actually not more expensive to go local. Like, I mean, you could compare a coffee at a Starbucks to a local coffee shop is gonna probably spend the same amount of money, right? It’s not just economies of scale, because there’s a large business. So one of the biggest misconceptions is that local is always going to be more expensive when it’s just not. I mean, we can talk about oil changes, and you know, do you are getting your tires changed, a lot of people think, you know, Costco is the best place to get your tires change, I could probably go around and find you five local auto shops that can do it for the same price or a lower price, right? So it’s just kind of debunking those myths that exist and getting people to kind of habitually change how they spend their money. Yeah,

11:40

yep. No, I love it. And talking about how quickly you guys had to, you know, when COVID hit can just sit down, cross your arms, I think it’s horrible what’s happened. I mean, businesses had to shut down and whatnot. But the thing that is really great is it’s forced creativity, it’s forced people to think about their business differently. I mean, I’ve there’s been many conversations I’ve had on how to make my business more digital. It’s like, the time isn’t right. And then once COVID hit it was like, well, we kind of have to that being said, it’s people had to think quickly on the fly pivot, knowing that you guys helped quite a few small businesses in the small business community. How did you guys approach in the last 12 months? What is your day to day look like in the last 12 months, I can only imagine how

12:21

Yeah, crazy, pretty wild. We were the way we’ve kind of been thinking about it is in three phases. And I think we’re in phase two right now. So first thing we actually did was we, we sat down before closures happened and said, We need to be prepared. Because if and when what happens in Arizona is what’s happening in Seattle at the time happens to Phoenix happens Arizona, because that’s where we were looking. And if you remember, Seattle was kind of the first West Coast City to kind of blow up closures, high case rates, all that kind of stuff. It was wild. And we said, if that happens here, we need to be ready, because small businesses aren’t going to know what to do. We need to advocate on behalf of them, etc, etc. So first thing we did was we called as many businesses as we could to write letters to the governor to say, Hey, we need federal aid for small businesses. And we got businesses in every county, the state write them letters in about 48 hours. So I think we had something like 35 or 40 letters sent pretty quickly. And that was super important. Because I don’t know if everybody knows this, but there’s actually this. I mean, you would probably guess it, there’s a super bureaucratic process for the governor asking for federal aid. They have to formally request it, there’s all this documentation that has to happen. The Small Business Administration can’t just say, Here you go, here’s a bunch of money. So by us getting in front of it, and having that happen, we were able to be one of the fastest state’s to say, Hey, we need emergency injury disaster loans. In Arizona, and you know, being in Arizona, it’s that super unique, because we don’t have hurricanes and tornadoes and natural disasters. And so pretty much every business that I know, has never heard of an emergency disaster loan from the government, right. And so we knew there was gonna be a process like educating businesses, how to do it, pulling together, their finances, all these things. So I kind of start with that to say, like, we were a little bit like we were on it like right in the beginning, and we had to set ourselves up for ensuring that whatever resources were going to be made available. And this was the first phase of the work was getting triage to the businesses. So we we identified that we were going to be in the stage of triage of needing to direct resources, information, provide education, inform the community of the importance of supporting small businesses, how they could do it, where they could do it. And we ended up being in the media. I think it was every week for 25 weeks. Because it was either I mean it was printed. It was radio, it was television saying, What’s going on? How can we help? What are the resources available for small businesses. So we just kind of positioned ourselves as best we could to make sure that we were getting the word out as best as possible. What came from that was us being in a great position to be able to recommend policies the governor’s office could be working on to help small businesses in the really challenging times.

15:25

So we were able to make sure that restaurants could sell alcohol to go right away, that was a huge thing. To have revenue coming in. Farmers Markets could stay open and designated as grocery stores. Food went remember when the seat was fully shut down. And we made it so that food trucks could still pop up at a highway rest stop, so that truckers coming through could actually purchase a meal because the vending machines weren’t being produced, there was all these things happening that we had our eye on that we were able to recommend that they were able to do. And from that, we said, You know what, that’s great, all this federal aid is coming. But it’s there’s a lot of businesses that can’t wait a lot of business to have months or weeks of revenue left. And so we launched our own Relief Fund, we call the Small Business Relief Fund. And by the end of it, we’re able to disperse nearly $13 million in grants to small businesses in every county of Arizona. So that was really important to us, because we didn’t want, you know, the mom and pop businesses and small businesses in, you know, glow, Miami, Kingman Yuma, to get overlooked. When all of this was coming through, we wanted to be sure that they could get access to funding resources too. So really, that first, I would say eight to 10 months of the pandemic was was triage, making sure we saved as many businesses as possible. where we’re at now is what we call recovery. You know, the businesses that have I mean, unfortunately, not every business has made it through, we’ve lost some, some decided to close some kind of make it you know, hearts go out to them, of course. But like you said, there’s been a lot of adapting, changing. And new business models, new products, new ways of delivering products and services across the board, businesses, digitizing businesses, creating online storefronts for the first time ever curbside pickup. I mean, this happened overnight. And we were able to see the entrepreneurs and small businesses out there that were creative and thoughtful, implemented. Really exciting things really quickly. You know, we saw distilleries making hand sanitizer, we saw printing companies who were relying on special events, making masks before we had to wear them, right. And so it was a lot of companies that got ahead and said, okay, in six months, what’s everybody gonna need? Let’s start doing that now. And now it’s, you know, 30 40% of the revenue. So the recovery phase that we’re in now we really see, as you know, things are starting to get a little better, right? I just heard yesterday, CDC says it’s safe to travel, as long as you got your vaccination, it’s safe to be around people. You know, you can’t pass or carry the vaccine if you’ve been vaccinated and waited your 14 days. So it’s just like, positive positive news. But we can’t just go back to how things were overnight, and expect the community to be ready for that. So we’ve got to help coach and train businesses what to do, help them get back to hiring right hirings, a huge thing right now, trying to find good people, and get back to a place where small businesses can be prioritized as the economy recovers.

18:41

Now, that’s great. I mean, jobs numbers came out to the federal level crushed it. And so things are definitely coming back. And it’s awesome. You guys are doing the education side on how to do it. I mean, you mentioned some businesses have failed. One thing I never really thought of is that there have been some but I’ve also seen a lot of new business types pop up, do you have a pulse on? Are there more or less businesses now than before the pandemic only because of there have been these new, just new things popping up? quite a bit.

19:09

Yeah, I don’t know, the actual numbers. I know that. You know, the Corporation Commission monitors, you know, new LLC is being established that kind of stuff. I don’t know, the actual numbers. But I have heard the same thing. And I’ve seen the same thing. Thing is, is you know, even though things were closing shut down a lot of businesses that were making plans to open new businesses, all of a sudden kind of had this space to refine their plans and get ready to open so, you know, we were seeing new restaurants open in the middle of a pandemic new bars, new new ventures starting to, you know, one of the areas that didn’t exist before was safety and compliance. There’s ice consulting agencies that opened up helping coach small businesses and and larger companies. How do you return to work now? Right in a safe way, and how do you To meet standards that the community expects, and how do you communicate that to community, these things businesses never had to do before? Right? We’re talking about like law firms, right. So it’s, it’s interesting to think about the new markets that have opened up the businesses and the people that have taken advantage of those markets for the betterment of society. And people, you know, consumer confidence is starting to come back, and people are starting to feel more comfortable doing it. And I think right now, it’s just making sure that we can help businesses take on those changes and in a healthy way, right. Yeah. So

20:38

yeah, it’s tough. I mean, human beings just don’t like change. And over the last 12 months, it’s been constant change is constant roller coaster of changing. And so it’s awesome that you guys are there to kind of help the business community. You know, one thing you guys are big on is education. I’ve heard that word a couple times we’ve been talking. I think this is something that all businesses should be doing. I mean, whether it’s nonprofit, for profit, I think the education piece is huge. A lot of businesses just trying to sell, sell, sell, but if you educate it leads to the sale quite a bit. And where I’m getting with this, you guys obviously do a great job on that education front. How do you guys go about that? What channels do you use? How do you educate? You know, your audience? I think, you know, most of the people watching this are solo entrepreneurs, small business owners. And so I guess, how do you guys go about educating the community,

21:23

one of the major programs that we have is our business coalition, our 3000 Plus, businesses that we work with, we have our membership program fosters education within it. So we provide space digitally, and usually in person once we can come back to being in person of bringing in experts bringing in people in marketing people in customer service, all people with a local expertise to help small businesses with business. Education from a local lens, right? A lot of there’s a lot of business education out there, but it’s just kind of, you know, black, like for everybody, right? Like leadership, you know, it’s just like, okay, but think about it like this, I actually one of the core things I help small businesses and local business think about is usually actually always be looking at what large corporations are doing. Because they have a lot of money to put into marketing and resource developments and in strategy, so just watch what they’re doing. And take the pieces of it. That makes sense, right. And I mean, you can do that from every level. The other thing is, think about the actual experience that you’re offering to people and, and ensure that it’s the best that it possibly can be. You know, I tell a story now, and again, there was a presentation, someone on our team is giving and talking about the importance of supporting local businesses and how the, you know, local economies work and all this stuff. And we usually get people pretty excited after we give a presentation, because you don’t typically hear about all that kind of stuff in you know, when you’re watching the news or whatever. When you hear about the economy with big numbers, big things and run out of Washington, DC, right, not not here. And so there’s a woman that attended and she was super moved and excited. And, you know, she said, I am I’m gonna go to my local grocery was a small town, I’m going to go to my local grocer now. And instead of the big box, so she makes this big plan. She goes down there, she’s one of the basics, you know, eggs, milk, bread, whatever it was, she goes in, and it’s just like, a mess, like, you know, can’t find what she needs. There’s nobody working to register, you know, she’s walking around. And, you know, you might be thinking all like, what a poorly run business, she gets so upset and she leaves. She goes home, looks up the business online, finds the email to the owner and writes an email and says, You know what, like, I was so excited to support your business, but I just had the worst experience possible. Like, how can you run a store like this, etc, etc. You know, this is mid afternoon. So she sends email, doesn’t think of it again, I’m never never gone back there right? A few hours later, gets a knock on our door, owner of the business with a bag of groceries, says Hey, I got your email. I’m so sorry. You had the worst experience I had three people call out today when you came it was it was a chaos. I had an order coming in in the back. And it was just it was just me You came at the worst possible time. Please take these groceries. And I hope to have your your commitment to come back at least inexperienced the store again. I’m like chills, right like, customer for life. Right? If you’re not delivering at that level, you’re going to go out of business. We are in a time where innovation and adaptiveness and convenience are at an all time high for us. from consumers wanting things fast from consumers wanting things now, but the one thing that outweighs convenience is service, you will always go back to a place that treats you well, and you will remember it. And you’ll not only remember it, but you’ll tell everybody that you know. And so if businesses can think about how they can deliver service, that’s better than the big guys. Right? Then you’re going to have a loyal following that commits to you and tells everybody else do too.

25:30

And I think, you know, as bigger business gets bigger, I mean, right now we have packages from Amazon, I doubt Jeff is gonna come over, Jeff Bezos is gonna come over and say, Hey, sorry, here’s here’s something. But that being said, with everything getting so quick business getting so big, there’s the, the loss of that personalization, and that one to one relationship. And I think that’s where small business can really succeed and differentiate themselves from, from the big box, you know, corporations and really earn more business. And I think that’s more and more consumers are wanting that, as, you know, things are, you know, we were actually talking about this earlier today, the lack of customer service now, just across the board, especially big business, it’s just, it’s not there. And I think there’s, you know, small business will always, you know, not always but hear a lot, that don’t have the budgets, I can’t compete and all that, but it’s, there’s that one to one, you know, personalization, and that relationship that you can build, that’s going to far outweigh the how quick you get a package and all that making someone feel special, which then creates that lifelong customer. Yeah,

26:27

I always joke and I mean, I, I’ve, I’ve received this experience before, you know, think about the experience of ordering, you know, US Amazon, you order something from Amazon, you know, maybe it arrives on time, maybe it doesn’t, maybe it’s in your bush or your neighbor’s yard, like who knows. And you get it, and it’s just this, like, it’s just this experience that just kind of, you know, isn’t pleasant, right? It’s like you finally get it and you’re like, Alright, I got what I wanted, whatever, you know, but even in in, in small businesses shouldn’t stay away from you know, operating at a competitive pace, right, like, you can still sell online, you can still ship you can still do free delivery within five miles of your location, you know, right, you can adapt and do cool things. I ordered, I think it was, you know what, actually, I was gifted like a small box of cupcakes from somebody from urban cookies. Last year, and you know, it was like, there’s a bow tied like this the best thing ever, right? And I opened it up and there’s like a card that says, because the owner knows who we are, and knew they were sending it to us. They even wrote a handwritten note that said, thanks for so much for all you do for local businesses. I was just like, so touched, right? Like, and I just experienced this Wow, like, what a great gift that I could give to somebody else next time now that I’ve experienced this. So from every aspect of your business, just have be somebody walking into your store, you can go the extra mile, make somebody feel special and have a good experience, you know, even even in operating in competitive ways, so

28:05

yep, no, I couldn’t agree more. I mean, it’s a year later, you’re talking about that those cupcakes, I mean, it’s just that little extra touch. I mean, most people aren’t going to talk about their cupcake experience and how great it was. But just that little extra touch that little relationship building there, that now you’re going to remember forever, anytime it comes up in conversation, that someone’s looking for a gift idea, the best cupcakes, that brand is now going to come up and increase that word of mouth, and continually continually helps the business to grow, which is ultimately what everyone is wanting. And no one that, you know, be quick, you can still be competitive and all that but they’re there. I truly think this whole business has an advantage over big business. That being said, as you’re kind of helping small businesses or organizations helping small businesses, what are the biggest areas of opportunities that small businesses have whether it’s being digital, its logistics, it’s customer service there? I mean, there’s so many different things that people can work on. Is there any common thing that you know, you’re helping someone with, they get it and all of a sudden, it really turns their numbers around in terms of sales?

29:07

Yeah, um, you know, some things are slow to implement. Other things are larger to implement. But I would say to two sides of that the first is telling your story. You know, and we all know this, we all hear this. People tend to care more people tend to be more loyal to you. Should they learn about why you’re doing what you’re doing? Then just knowing what service you provide? You know, one example I’ll give is the Fleischmanns Howard and Pat fleshman. Howard fleshman. Started community tire pros years ago, there’s one down in university I go to and you know, when we started working with them a local first you know, you go to the website, what do you see we sell tires right now? Yeah, pretty basic. That’s what kind of what you would expect but come to find out and learn that actually, he started his company because his son was killed in in an automobile accident, because the other car had old tires that skidded out and crashed into them. And so he wanted to commit his life to having a business that not sold tires, but provided safe safety for you and your family. Right? So you hear that? And it’s just like, why would I ever go to Costco? Okay, you know, and so it’s just like, hearing the story is one thing. equipping yourself as a business to tell that story is another. So we’ve seen huge transformations in small businesses being able to share their story in different ways. I mean, there’s so many mediums to do it. But there’s a lot of basic fundamentals to get it right. Just, I think it’s just starting with Who are you? And why are you doing this? Right? And yeah, every businesses can only be in business to make money. But you know, why you’re actually serving the communities is probably why you’re doing that, right. So telling your story, getting the story out, whether that’s, that’s video, that’s your website, that social media, there’s, there’s so many ways to do it. And so we really encourage businesses do that have seen a lot of traction there. The other is digitizing and being online. A lot of people will be more likely to, you know, I think just in general, shop at a business if there’s optional options to do so. Right. So, right now, what are we looking at in COVID? Do you have curbside pickup? Do you you know, are your employees wearing masks or whatever it is, right. contactless delivery? Can I go to your website and order it before? Or you know, what is? What is the process? What is the situation that I’m going to endure in supporting your business? So the more businesses can make that easy? And again, there’s lots of tools and technology to do it. The probably better off you’re going to be because I mean, we can look at numbers and statistics. I was looking at it a few weeks ago. alcohol sales to go medications, groceries, a lot of these things that skyrocketed in delivery and curbside pickup over COVID aren’t going away. Yeah. Think about you know, the mom in the minivan with maybe four kids in the back, coming home from school that’s got to pick up groceries? Would it be easier for her to drive up and get it loaded in the back rather than taking four kids to the grocery store properly? So how do you position yourself as business regardless of what business you’re in, to meet the needs of how people have changed their habits through this last year. And so I think that, you know, there’s lots of ways that they can do it, businesses can do it and being online have a competitive way to position yourself online is one of them. So what we did at local versus we actually launched marketplace for small businesses, it’s called shop Arizona. And it’s just shopped at local first easy calm, any small business in Arizona can join it, sell any products you want. The thing is, is we limited it to 10 products, so you just sell your best stuff. So you go on there, there’s over 700 items now and it’s super cool, you can get it shipped right to you, you can pick it up. And you know, you find out about businesses, maybe you’ve never heard it before.

33:23

So yeah, that’s really cool. I mean, my mom would never do grocery pickup or anything. And now it’s like she goes, I don’t know how I lived without this. And I mean, it’s, you know, we have a little four month old and now it’s like, you know, time is tougher define and being able to just schedule it, when I’m gonna come pick it up, I have to do is open up the bag, you get groceries, I mean, just kind of fit it into your schedule. I think the beauty of digitization and digital transformation in general is that you allow the consumer less friction to essentially buy your products and services. And if you I mean, there’s one thing that every everyone wants, that’s more time in the day, there’s no one has enough time there. Everyone’s always, you know, run around whatever it may be. So if there’s anything you can do, from a technology perspective, to create less friction, that allows people to schedule and curbside pickup and do all that. It’s just gonna be that much easier to buy and purchase from you. And then it goes back into that, that, you know, you’re helping build that relationship and it’s gonna drive more business overall. Now, you know, lots of businesses moving here. Got a lot, a lot of people from California, a lot of, you know, California people moving here, a lot of headquarters are moving out here. What does the business landscape look like? You know, the next couple years for Arizona?

34:36

Yeah, um, so trying to focus on things we know rather than things we don’t know. I was just laughing with an event producer who, you know, I called after COVID happened and I said, What are you what are you feeling? What do you know? And, you know, we’re trying to make all these predictions because, I mean, we put on special events too, and it’s just like, when is that even going to come back? People are starting to kind of plantings, you know, our fingers are crossed that, you know, special events and concerts and things like that, well maybe return this summer, for the most part, like in more of a regular way, right? Not this like weird, like socially distance, like, you know, blue lines and a table and in a field somewhere kind of weird ness. But, you know, getting back to kind of the old ways of having in person events, likely Summer, Fall this year. And so with that, we’re anticipating a huge rush in, in several industries. You know, obviously events industry was included in the safer stages act that Congress passed, which was huge. Shout out Steve Chilton from rebel lounge, who, who led that effort in Arizona, that’s going to help out a ton of music venues, music, producers, promoters, museums, a lot of businesses that were just super hurt over the last year. And so with that, they’re gonna have, you know, funding coming through and be able to set themselves up to start opening up and doing things again. So this whole industry that was pretty much plummeted that couldn’t operate at all right, like, like you could kind of operate restaurant right for a while, like, even though numbers were down, you could still do it. Yeah, you could not put on an event. You could not perform at an event. Most weddings were decreased in size. You cannot cater to people that were not getting together, right? And so you know, caterers, event, promoters, and producers, planners, all of these people and all of these people within this industry, there’s going to be a rush there. And so getting that community in that industry prepped for the rush is going to be something super important. Because I mean, we all want it right? Like I can’t wait to go see, you know, a show or see. Even just go to the movie, a patent movie, right? Like these all these opportunities that bring people together, there’s going to be a huge rush in that industry. So that industry is going to see rush. Tourism and, and just kind of going out and doing things even locally is going to be a huge industry that gets impacted. I mean, we’re kind of in the waiting game right now. So yeah, the CDC just said, you can travel domestically, as long as you got a vaccine. So, you know, when are the airlines going to start skyrocketing a bit? Are people going to come here? More like we’re entering the summer? So like, what does that mean? So I don’t know, I think these are all things that we know are going to happen that we just kind of have to wait and see when they’re gonna happen. And then as far as there are usually slower Arizona summer, I’m hopeful that it’s not as slow as it usually is. Because I mean, even I being in, you know, my home for the most part last year, I might sweat it out and go sit on a patio, at a restaurant or a bar now because I can write and so I think while returning to normal, whatever that means is something that people want, we’re not going to get exactly to normal, things are going to be different. And they’re going to change and different people are going to meet that change at a time that makes sense for them. But I think that we can feel pretty confident that it’s going to happen and feel positive that that that our business community is gonna gonna come back. So yeah, yeah, I

38:28

think everyone’s getting excited. It’s it’s kind of like, I mean, we’re obviously not there yet. But I think everyone can kind of feel that the the worst is over. Hopefully, that’s true. But yeah, it’ll be exciting. It’ll be exciting to get back out. It’ll be exciting to see, you know, businesses flourish, I think people are sitting on, you know, quite a bit of money from sitting around not doing much. And I think there’s gonna be huge, huge surge of of just spending, and I think it’ll bring a whole other set of problems for businesses in terms of, do you have enough inventory? Do you have enough staff? And I think it’ll be different problems that you have to figure out, but I think there’ll be better problems on, aren’t we at least we have cash coming in to solve some of these problems, rather than trying to figure out how to make $1 stretch as far as POS? Absolutely,

39:09

absolutely.

39:09

You know, I’ve been talking a lot about other businesses, you know, everyone talks, 10 year goals, long term goals. But I mean, so much can change as we’ve just seen this last 12 months, I mean, within a week, almost. That being said, what are some, I guess, personal goals, and then goals for the organization in the next three to six months, so you guys are trying to accomplish

39:31

all kind of stretch that just for the year. So what we what we probably haven’t talked about today is a lot of the other programs that local first Arizona that a lot of people find out about after being introduced to the local movement in general. You know, it kind of starts with, you know, someone thinking about, Oh, you know what, like, kind of we were talking about before, if I did go support the local coffee shop, I’m more connected to my community and I’m supporting somebody that I He lives here, right? And so kind of starts there. But, and kind of digging deeper into that we could say buy local all day long, eat local all day long. But not everybody can do that. Not everybody has the resources to start a business. Not everybody has the opportunity to be involved in a local economy, like we’re talking about, right. And so the other programs of local first Arizona, that we operate in exists to address some of those systemic barriers that exists throughout our communities that inhibit certain communities from participating in that. So what you’re going to see this year is a continued rise in those programs that we’ve been investing in, that there’s been a demand for, we run an egg, we’ve ran an accelerator program for seven years for Spanish speaking entrepreneurs, their printers called Forza locale, it’s had over 600 entrepreneurs go through the program, not only do you go through it, and you build a business plan, but it helps Latino businesses build their first ever credit score, open up their first bank account, make them bankable, so that they can build wealth for their families. So we’ve taken that same model. And we’re we’ve launched a new program within our what we call our micro enterprise development, umbrella of local first, which is called we rise, it’s a black business accelerator program that launched in January, that’ll be doubling in size in July. So you’re gonna see more of that coming from us. We also operate as the Arizona Rural Development Council. So we’re not just in Greater Phoenix, we have a team of six that actually travels throughout all of Arizona provides community resources, tourism strategies, and just a lot of community development work within all of our rural towns, you know, we’re talking everywhere, from Idaho to Bisbee, to Kingman, to glow, Miami, you know, all these places that are so rich, but you know, need further development within them. Our team provides all those resources. And then one of the areas that is really growing quickly is the sustainability space. So we operate three different programs that help businesses, through their operations and development to be more core focused on building business plans that help the environment and are focused on the environment, not just because we got to do that. But also because there’s a growing demand from consumers to support businesses that are transparent about how they are environmentally conscious, you know, how do you what do you do with your waste? Your water, your energy, your carbon footprint in general, right? How is all that calculated? And how are you communicating it. And so the programs that we operate through that lens, are really going to grow because of the growing interest from the community and wanting to support those types of businesses, the growing opportunity for businesses to develop those types of products and services. And I think the growing demands just from the world, that we have to do it, you know, we can’t just sit here and deny that, you know, the climates the way it is. And so businesses are at the forefront of that and how they operate and can develop plans to be a part of the solution. So I think over the next year, the community’s gonna see a lot of that coming from us.

43:28

Yeah, and I think as businesses get more sustainable on that front, I mean, that transition, my, you know, got to figure out logistics got it, there’s, there’s things that you need to change. And I we said most people don’t like change, there might be some costs involved. But I think overall, it’s just, it’ll, with things being more, I guess, green more sustainable, I think it could bring the cost down on a lot of things and make things more accessible in terms of starting a business or for consumers, and whatever that may be. And so it’s awesome that you guys are kind of leading that charge there. That’s, that’s really cool. And as we kind of wrap up, I mean, this is great. Usually, it’s, you know, for businesses that are out there, what what’s a piece of advice you have, but I think you can still answer that, but but it’s a little bit of

44:12

Yeah, but I think there’s a lot of a lot of, I mean, I’ve seen an increase in entrepreneurs, I can’t remember what statistic I saw, but people actually starting businesses because there’s been more time there’s been stimulus and, and all of that. So anyone in their, you know, local community in Arizona in general, that’s thinking about starting a business, I guess, would be the biggest piece of advice that you’d have for them before they go and make that leap of faith.

44:34

Yeah, I think it’s just build a below super strong network, get plugged in. Don’t go at it alone. Be build your build your circle, right. And that’s not just circle in your family that’s or whoever you have, in your inner personal circle. That’s, you know, your accountants, your payroll company like a build trusted a trusted network. Don’t just go after the, you know, the the the cheapest way to do it right? invest in relationships that are gonna gonna be there for you when you most need them. So I highly recommend that. And then I just, you know, recommend investing in spending the time telling your story, and not just focused on building a product or building a brand. It’s really about people are gonna care about who you are. So

45:26

yeah, no, I love it. We’re big on, we help drive sales through telling your your business’s story. So we’re definitely in line on the storytelling side of things. I look forward to seeing your guys’s growth and I appreciate what you guys are doing for the community for entrepreneurs for businesses and looking forward to see how you can help the community grow.

45:44

Well, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.


Where To Find Thomas Barr

LinkedIn: Thomas Barr

Website: Local First Arizona


On the previous episode of RGR, Dustin talked to Design Pickle’s Russ Perry whose concept of a subscription creative services provider, has been an enormous success, according to lots of the national business press that has discovered Russ and his team.

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