Friday, February 26, 2010

3/50 Project finds its way into region


By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, February 26, 2010 12:00 AM CST
A national small business project that caught fire via the Internet less than a year ago has made its way into Owensboro.

So far, two regional businesses have joined the 3/50 Project, but local businessman and local shopping cheerleader Gordie Wilcher hopes to build on that.

The idea is for consumers to pick three local businesses they wouldn't want to see disappear and spend $50 per month at each one.

Retail consultant and blogger Cinda Baxter put the idea out there last March with a free flyer for businesses to give to customers, and then followed it up with a Web site, www.the350project.net.

In the first seven days, 7,500 people found the site. Now, community groups across the country have joined.

Wilcher, co-owner of Owensboro Music Center, learned about the project from members of MusicStoreOwners.com. He's president of that national group of independent music store owners.

"Our mission is identical to the 3/50 Project -- saving brick and mortars (our nation is built on)," Wilcher said Thursday. "... I haven't done much with this yet. I want to learn more about it, but I hope to start a local groundswell."

Perry LeGate, owner of Laser One, which re-manufactures laser printer toner cartridges, was drawn to the 3/50 Project because of the message it delivers to support local businesses.

"We're the only company in western Kentucky I know of that does this (manufacturing) in-house," LeGate said. "We would like for people to know that we're supporting the local job market and the environment. And we're trying to build our economy here, instead of supporting some other economy somewhere else."

LeGate said he does business with his own customers "from buying cars to groceries," and he practices the 3/50 Project creed as often as he can.


The popular project is a new approach to the old directive to "shop locally."

Jody Wassmer, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, learned about it last year.

"I knew some other chambers were tapping into it," Wassmer said. "Here in Owensboro we were in the sixth year of our 'Owensboro Has It' campaign, and it had gotten some traction. We didn't want to change in the middle of it."

Wassmer did, however, incorporate the 3/50 Project's philosophy into the Owensboro Has It campaign last June.

In the local campaign, 40 chamber members pay a fee for a mixed media promotional package that changes a bit each year. The advertising is valued at about four times the fee.

Last June, the chamber included an advertising sticker on the front of the Messenger-Inquirer encouraging readers to think of their favorite local business and shop there at least twice during the month.

"Truth be told, on this 'buy local' theme catching hold now, the chamber was out in front a bit with our Owensboro Has It campaign," Wassmer said. "Every year the package changes, but the message is the same -- If you need something, look in Owensboro first. It's all about buying locally."

Wilcher admits he's "very passionate about buying locally." If the chamber doesn't pick it up, he will continue to promote it.

The economic slowdown has made that theme more challenging to sell, but he believes that continuing to put information before the public will have an impact.

He points to Baxter's numbers as a good start. She notes that for every $100 spent at independent stores, $68 comes back to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. For national chain stores, that return is $43. Communities need a balance of both local and national stores, she said.

"It may take a long time, but with education and with talking to people and showing them the facts in a reasonable manner, this can turn around," Wilcher said. "We need to use our heads; it makes sense to shop locally."

Joy Campbell, 691-7299, jcampbell@messenger-inquirer.com