By Stephanie Klett and Bill Barth
‘Tis the season to be spendy.
There’s more in the air than wind-blown leaves and brisk fall temperatures. Excitement for the holiday season is everywhere, from community festivities to bright lights in the night sky. The next few weeks will be busy as millions of Americans prepare for the biggest family gathering and holy holiday of the year.
While the traditional Christmas season is a time of faith and family, it’s also an American economic juggernaut. Gift-giving is big business.
The National Retail Federation reports the average American consumer spends $997.73 while Christmas shopping. Incidentally, that’s a relative match for the median pre-tax weekly salary of $1,001. Look at it this way. After the first week of January most folks will have earned enough to finance Christmas.
In 2021, overall Christmas spending increased more than 13% from the previous year. That’s higher than usual, probably because the nation and the world were just coming off the coronavirus hangover. For 2022, U.S. spending is projected to increase somewhere between 6-8%, still a hefty bump at the cash register.
What it all comes down to is a stunning figure. American Christmas shoppers will spend up to $960 billion through the holidays. Almost a trillion bucks. No wonder it’s an exciting time.
When most people think about Visit Lake Geneva it’s natural they focus on travel and tourism. Visit, after all, is part of the name.
Perhaps less well known is the fact that Visit Lake Geneva is a dual, somewhat unique, organization, also functioning as the community’s chamber of commerce. There are more than 400 business partners, representing both large and small enterprises, as members of Visit Lake Geneva, supporting the organization through dues and in many other ways. So it’s not only Visit Lake Geneva’s charter to welcome visitors and promote tourism, but also to advocate on behalf of the partner business community and the economy.
“People often think about the Lake Geneva region for everything there is to do, from the water to the golf, the festivals, the resorts, ziplining, biking and hiking,” Stephanie said. “That’s wonderful. They’re here to have fun. But we realize behind every moment of fun is a hard-working business organization making the effort to anticipate and meet needs. Our area has great enterprises serving the needs of local folks and visitors alike. At Visit Lake Geneva we’re proud and honored to help them help you.”
Let’s get to the point. When visitors come they will be spending money. That’s a given, and it is appreciated more than most visitors ever will know. That spending is a major driver in the regional economy.
But local folks spend money, too, perhaps especially when the Christmas holiday season rolls around. How it’s spent, and where it’s spent, is important for keeping our community economically healthy and providing jobs for friends and neighbors.
Consider some numbers, culled from various American studies and reports:
If a shopper spends $100 at a local business, $68 stays here. Spend the same amount at a big chain store and about $48 stays in the community.
Money spent locally turns over about 3.5 times, churning and generating local financial gain.
Go to a chain store here, and the same chain in another city. It all looks the same, right down to the merchandise on the shelf. Local shops must distinguish themselves by offering unique and unusual choices likely to delight the gift receiver.
Likewise, local shops differentiate themselves by offering exceptional personalized service for customers. We know you know what we mean, as you mumble under your breath checking yourself out and sacking your own goods.
America’s local businesses employ about 77 million people. That’s almost two-thirds of all private sector jobs. When you buy local and keep your money local, your neighbors keep working.
There’s something special about the sense of community when you frequent local businesses, to meet and greet folks you know and who have a similar stake in the region.
You may not be thinking about climate change while you’re out looking for that special item for mom, but you are making a difference. Shopping local shortens trips and reduces the holiday season carbon footprint. And that matters.
Finally, a couple of practical considerations. When you shop local there’s no worry about whether delivery will get the stuff to you on time. You just pick it up and take it home. Likewise, shopping local is a tactile experience. You are not looking at an item online. You can touch it, pick it up, try it on. That’s a confidence-builder.
This time of year can be a make-or-break season for businesses, particularly retailers. Generally, the last two months of the year represent 20% or more of annual sales volume. A solid season launches a business into the next year with resources and confidence. A weak season can make operators ponder their commitment to continue.
By shopping local, your dollars build a stronger and more vibrant community. We believe in that. So should you.
Stephanie Klett is the President and CEO of Visit Lake Geneva, and the former Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Bill Barth is the former Editor of the Beloit Daily News, and a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame.