You don’t have to have lived in Asheville long to know that buying locally made artwork and other crafts and enjoying provisions at local restaurants and breweries are parts of the fabric of the community. Spending at local businesses is one thing that helps keep Asheville vibrant while supporting friends, family and neighbors.
But what’s less frequently discussed are the dozens of business-to-business relationships that make up the backbone of Asheville’s business community. The cidery that purchases apples from a local farmer. The restaurant that hires a local musician to perform. Or the manufacturer who supplies textiles to local fiber artists.
Sherree Lucas, executive director of Go Local Asheville, says that while some of the benefits of working with local makers and sellers are numerous, it is the face-to-face relationships that business owners enjoy with one another that have the most impact.
“There’s going to be the potential for a deeper connection because you’re living in the same area, you have so many things in common,” Lucas explains. “You’re both businesspeople, and you’re going through the same kind of situations in the local economy.”
Xpress sat down with Lucas to discuss what local supply businesses look like and the lasting impact of COVID-19.
What are the benefits of working with other local businesses?
We can use an example of a boutique. If they’re sourcing their jewelry or their candles locally, then more money is staying in Asheville.
Say I go to Embellish Asheville downtown on Broadway and buy a $20 pair of earrings. If those earrings were not made in Asheville, the only money that stays here in Asheville is the profit margin, or what Embellish makes from the sale. But let’s assume that they bought those earrings from a local jeweler and they paid $10 or $15 to that local jeweler. A larger percent of the sale would stay in our local economy.
In some cases, working with other local businesses could mean reduced cost, because you’re not paying for transportation. And it can also mean faster delivery times because you’re not worrying about delays from shipping something from across the country or halfway across the world.
Another good one is improved relationships with suppliers. You’re going to know these people. It also speaks to improved customer service to locals who have more of a connection to other local businesses.
What are some examples of B2B relationships?
When people think about the local supply chain, they tend to think about it more from the manufacturing standpoint, but I’m encouraging folks to consider it more broadly.
One of our biggest categories is actually in marketing support — hiring local graphic artists and others in the creative community. Another big one is wholesalers, that is, people who sell into other businesses who then turn around and sell their products.
Businesses could also choose local professional services, such as accountants, financial services or insurance agents, as opposed to going to one of a franchise.
And local farmers that are supplying grocery stores and restaurants here. There are really many examples.
How did COVID change the way that local businesses think about supply chains?
What happened during COVID is a great example of the importance of a localized supply chain. If you remember, supply chains were in disarray at the national level. We couldn’t get [personal protective equipment], like masks, into the area when that happened.
In Asheville, we had companies who were mainly local manufacturers that were able to convert their operations to create masks and gowns and face protections, which enabled PPE to get into our community much faster.
COVID helped people realize the vulnerability of local independent businesses and why they need to be supported and protected. The business owners were their neighbors and friends, and everyone saw how quickly their lives changed. It was through the support of the community that many of our businesses survived the pandemic.
What are some limitations to local supply chains?
One is the availability of local resources, and another is the amount of demand to sustain a supply chain. If there isn’t adequate demand, it doesn’t make sense to establish a supply chain. So, we’d look to where it makes sense. A great example is the outdoor industry. WNC is an outdoor mecca, so it makes sense to develop a local supply chain to support it. A supply chain of professional services that caters to local independent businesses makes sense. And the greater the demand for local products and services, the healthier our local supply chain becomes.
While I’d love to envision a day where there’ll be no more Amazon trucks clogging our local roads, it’s also unrealistic to think that everything can be sourced locally. What I’d hope is that businesses when they’re deciding on where to order their office supplies, deciding where to take their staff to lunch or for team-building, finding creative support for building a website or an advertising campaign, to ask the question “Where can I find a local independent business to support my business needs?”
Will it take some extra effort? It could. More time? Maybe at first. But if they understand the importance and it just becomes routine, we’ll see our local business-to-business community thrive. And that I believe to be a realistic goal.
Where do you see Asheville’s B2B community in five years?
No doubt it will continue to grow; however, continued focus and education about the importance of supporting local businesses is crucial to its growth.
Asheville is an amazing place for local independent businesses because we have a culture that supports it. We need to continue to support, nurture and protect it. And every one of us can make a difference by remembering to shop local first, helping to educate our new neighbors and Asheville residents on why it’s important to keep local culture thriving and thanking our local independent businesses for all they do for our community.