More than ever before, local businesses and small business owners need your support. If you’re a business owner, I’m sure you know this by now; if you’re a consumer, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help your community and stop big chains from taking over even more of the landscape.
For the last 15 years, Thomas Barr has been helping communities answer these questions. Thomas is the executive director of Local First Arizona, an organization here in Phoenix that provides business owners with networking, education, and guidance on how to operate more efficiently.
Today, Thomas joins the podcast to talk about why the odds have always been stacked against small business owners, how the COVID-19 pandemic has made things that much tougher, and what you can do to support your favorite businesses in this precarious time.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
[00:00:01] Andrew Rafal: Hey, listeners. Today’s show is going to be about all things local and by that, I mean how each and every one of us can support our local small business. See, small businesses make up 90% of the businesses in your community. And in today’s COVID world where everyone is struggling, it’s never been more important to get out there and help the local community by supporting these businesses. Today, I am privileged to bring on Thomas Barr to the podcast. Thomas is the executive director of a fantastic organization here in Phoenix called Local First Arizona. And for the last 15 plus years, Local First has been helping business owners thrive by offering networking and education and just guidance on how they can run their businesses more efficiently. In today’s COVID world, it is so important that you know what’s out there if you’re a business owner, how you can make sure that you sustain your business, keep your employees.
And if you’re an individual listening, today, Thomas is going to walk through some of the things that you should be doing so that you can support the community and make sure that the big chains don’t come in and take over more of the landscape. So, without further ado, my episode with Thomas Barr and supporting the local businesses in each and every one of our communities.
[00:01:26] Andrew Rafal: And welcome back, listeners, to another episode of Your Wealth & Beyond. And, Thomas Barr, welcome to the show. We are very excited to have you onboard today.
[00:01:35] Thomas Barr: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[00:01:38] Andrew Rafal: So, we’re just talking pre-gaming here. It’s a little chilly in Arizona. We finally got through the 100 degrees and I think today was like 50 degrees when I went outside with the dogs today.
[00:01:48] Thomas Barr: I still see 49 on my phone and I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I think yeah, we dip to at least 50 for sure.
[00:01:56] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. My dog who is just a little French Bulldog and she looked at me, she’s like, “I’m not going out in this without a sweater on.”
[00:02:03] Thomas Barr: Right.
[00:02:04] Andrew Rafal: So, we deserve it. It’s been a long, long summer and a tumultuous year and a tumultuous year is an understatement. So, today, listeners, we’re going to focus on all things local and whether you live here in the Phoenix area or you’re somewhere else in the country, Thomas is going to touch on today why local in this timeframe even more specifically is so crucial and some of the things that Local First Arizona has done. So, Thomas, let’s take a step back and just let’s walk through the mission and the purpose of Local First Arizona where you’ve been part of now for it’s been six, seven years?
[00:02:43] Thomas Barr: Yeah, a little over seven years. So, yeah, in the early 2000s, not only in Arizona but in other parts of the country, the local movement started to form. Local First Arizona was formed in 2003. Our founder, who’s also a small business owner, started really looking at how we could influence better long-term economic strategies to build more prosperity and wealth for Arizonans through a different approach. For the 30 years before that, our economic development strategies have really almost entirely been focused on business attraction. How many big companies or retail companies or whoever they are, can we get to come to Arizona with not a really focused approach on business growth?
Investing in entrepreneurs, investing in businesses that are already here, getting them the resources that they need to grow and thrive. And so, what she did was really just started reaching out to every business in her network that was a family-owned, small company, independently-owned and operated. In about five years, they grew their network to be 800 businesses and had the largest local business coalition in the country forming. So, today we represent at Local First just over 3,200 businesses across Arizona, and the work is really centered behind driving home the message to everyone that’s here, whether you’re a local, a tourist, a business owner, a member of the community that the more we refocus our efforts on spending our dollars with locally-owned businesses and investing in the growth of entrepreneurship, the better Arizona is going to be long-term. We know economically it’s better and we also know that it just makes a better place.
[00:04:55] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. When we think about small businesses just in the US, I think there’s over like 30 million small businesses and the average is maybe one to five employees. Would you say that out of the 3,200 firms, businesses that are part of Local First, would you say that most of them are under 10 employees?
[00:05:15] Thomas Barr: I’d say about, yeah, about 65% to 70% are under 10 and then there’s a good chunk that are also between 10 and I would say 25.
[00:05:26] Andrew Rafal: You know, running a business, being an entrepreneur pre-COVID, it’s tough enough. We deal with a lot of business owners and we see the triumphs, we see the trials, the tribulations. And so, the impact and we’ll talk a lot today about what you guys have been doing to help these business owners maintain, sustain their livelihood, their dreams, keeping people employed. But even pre-2020, I mean, when you look at some of the value that you’ve been able to bring when it comes to coordinating and helping people financials and bringing together the community and kind of like-minded people, what has been for you, what have you seen over these last six years like some of the true benefits that you’ve been able to help in some of the success stories that you’ve seen?
[00:06:16] Thomas Barr: Absolutely. So, I think you hit the nail on the head. Pre-COVID, operating as a small business, you already got the odds stacked against you. And I think, for the most part, we have seen small businesses and we think of the small businesses that we see face-to-face, our favorite coffee shops, our favorite restaurants, but we tend to forget or not really think about the businesses that actually help those businesses or allow those businesses to operate. Printing, advertising, marketing, payroll service providers, insurance, all these businesses that operate in the background are actually the true makeup of the majority of small businesses that exist. And we forget that if we were to choose to go to a Starbucks versus a local coffee shop, that Starbucks is going to turn around and that money’s going out-of-state. It’s going back to corporate.
When you spend at that local business, that local coffee shop’s turning around and they’re actually hiring other people to help them stay in business. And so, it’s exciting to think about the number of businesses you’re impacting when you shop locally. But what we’ve been able to see is a lot of businesses kind of really rally together and collaborate in really, really creative, effective ways, that is doing great business. It’s doing good business together. One of the things that we recently saw was there’s a couple of businesses a few years ago. Most people know of Changing Hands Bookstore. If you’re Phoenician, most people know of Duck and Decanter, a longtime family-owned sandwich company. And we realized that they were both having anniversaries at the exact same time. One was having a 45th year anniversary, one a 50th anniversary.
[00:08:17] Thomas Barr: But they were also both struggling with something at the same time. At the time, Duck and Decanter was trying to sell Arizona wines and wasn’t having a lot of success, and Changing Hands Bookstore was seeing a decline in author signups at their stores. And so, we got together with them and we said, “Well, why don’t we collaborate on this together. You got anniversaries coming up and maybe something you might be able to accomplish together.” So, they put ads together. They took out ads collaboratively because they identified they have the same demographic. The same person that might go to a Changing Hands is the same type of person that’s going to go to a Duck and Decanter. So, what they did is they actually scheduled a series of author readings and signings at Duck and Decanter, Changing Hands did, and Duck and Decanter only featured Arizona wines at those readings and signings. So, they were able to kind of tackle both of the issues they had, save on marketing dollars by collaborating together, and really just celebrate long-time family-owned businesses right here in Arizona.
And that stuff is really exciting because that doesn’t happen at the big box level, right? We only see those types of innovations and collaborations really happening at the micro small business level which we get to see all the time and are really excited about.
[00:09:37] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. If I need to go to a hardware store like I’ll make a conscious effort to try to go to like the local Ace, and even though some of them are franchises, I just feel better going in there even though I may spend a little bit more money than rolling into this huge Lowe’s where there’s no employees and it’s in a box and it’s concrete and it just feels so non-intimate and so forth. And the same thing like you said with coffee, the Starbuckization of looking at every corner where you’ve got that whether you go to a cartel or whatever local shop that you like, it just feels better that you’re supporting and you’re helping other business owners. So, I 100% agree on that.
[00:10:20] Thomas Barr: Yeah. Absolutely. And we can do it in so many different ways, the hardware store is a great example. Not only do we think about supporting that one shop, but that local shop is probably purchasing more American-made products. And so, you’re going to be doubling down on keeping your dollars locally. You know, majority of the products at Lowe’s and Home Depot are sourced from outside the United States and so it’s extracting even more wealth from our local economy. So, it’s important to think about all the ways that you’re actually impacting the economy through your purchases.
[00:11:00] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. Just to see the growth, I’ve been out here since early about 2000 or so, but just to see the growth that Arizona, metro-Phoenix has shown over really even the last decade, it’s so exciting. And although there’s this little, not little, but there’s this blip on the road right now, I think we’re still on a really big thing. So, you guys look at some of the things and the initiatives that you put in place. Again, let’s talk pre-COVID, and then we’re going to talk what you guys did with COVID but like what are some of the things that you’ve done and where other business owners can get involved with who may not know a little bit about Local First? And what are some of the things you do with the education as well as raising money as well as just bringing people together? What’s that look like? What’s the landscape?
[00:11:46] Thomas Barr: Yeah. It looks like a lot, to say it simply. So, as we started, we started as a buy local coalition. Really, the mission was for, I would say, close to 10 years. Our first 10 years was spreading the message to people about the importance of shopping local and creating a resource that people could go to, to find locally-owned businesses. Our job was and still is to make it easier for people to find local businesses because we understand people. People are at the will of our habits and the infrastructure of our economy is how it is today. And so, we’ve got a lot of work to do to not only educate people about the importance of local businesses but making it easier for them to access them. And then also helping locally-owned businesses be more competitive and have better products and service.
Because I tell these people all the time, if we say shop local-by-local all day long and you go local and local sucks, you’re probably not going to go back. So, we’ve got to train and we’ve got to help small businesses hear from successful companies and hear from innovators on things that they’re doing so that they can innovate themselves and have the best service, right? If you’re going to go out of your way, if you’re maybe going to drive a couple of extra miles to go to a small business, you want that experience to be great. So, part of our job is helping coach and train and share stories and experiences from really successful small businesses not only in Arizona but that we know of around the country and around the world. So, yeah, go ahead.
[00:13:34] Andrew Rafal: So, when Kimber started this back in 2003 or so, she said she was a small business owner, may still is. What type of business was she running at the time?
[00:13:43] Thomas Barr: Yeah. So, when Kimber was I believe she was 18 or 19 years old, she actually had a full-ride scholarship to ASU, went for a semester, decided wasn’t for her, and she threw away that scholarship, went home to mom and dad and said, “Hey, I’m going to drop out of school and I’m going to start a record store. I’m going to call it Stink Weeds.” And they said, “Honey, that sounds like a great idea.” Kimber comes from an entrepreneurial background. Her whole family are entrepreneurs. Father, jazz, musician. Mother owned art galleries all her life. Brother’s an architect. So, it’s really just in their blood. And here we are 34 years later, that record store is still in existence. It’s over on Central and Camelback. It’s usually ranked as one of the top independent record stores in the country. They’ve got a lot of jazz and blues and really unique old punk rock and stuff like that.
So, it’s really, really cool that she’s still running and operating that business. She’s also owned and operated an art gallery in downtown Phoenix in the area called Roosevelt Row. A lot of people have heard of that, an art gallery called Modified Arts. She opened that up in the late 90s as a music venue so that independent musicians as they were traveling through Phoenix had a place to play. And so, acts like Jimmy Eat World and the Arcade Fire come through over the years before they stopped doing shows in the early 2000s. But really, she brings that entrepreneurial spirit into Local First Arizona. So, one of our values is that we’re entrepreneurial. We think creatively about how we offer resources and services to the community and it’s really, I would say, part of the blood of Local First. 98% of the businesses and the members that we have are for-profit businesses and so we’ve got to have a for-profit mindset.
[00:15:48] Thomas Barr: We’re not a traditional nonprofit. And so, we bring really creative strategies and innovative approaches to helping businesses which you see throughout all the programming that Local First offers.
[00:16:00] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. With her background, with just the creative mindset, the art mindset, you guys haven’t really been instilled in the core values from the get-go. And I love the fact how you bring some of that to the table and lots of different events that maybe some business owners would never go to, and then they get their eyes open that we’ve got this wonderful art scene here, so much creative things going on. Over the last 15 years or so it’s just continued to evolve. So, when you think about what she started, all these successful businesses, well, Local First is right up there having how many employees are full-time right now?
[00:16:37] Thomas Barr: We’re just over 30. Yeah.
[00:16:39] Andrew Rafal: That’s amazing. That’s awesome, 30 employees. So, a testament to you guys taking something that she had a vision on and being able to continue to evolve it, run it, and bringing good people. It’s just an awesome success story there over these years.
[00:16:55] Thomas Barr: Absolutely.
[00:16:58] Andrew Rafal: So, the bringing together the like-minded and as you indicated earlier, I’ve been fortunate to be part of Entrepreneurs’ Organization over the last three, four years. So, in that case, we learned from other business owners, not inside/outside of our industries but just continue learning, networking, but trying to find what others are doing to improve and what others have done that maybe we can learn from. And so, would you say that same concept is part of Local First in bringing that education and having businesses learn from those maybe that have been more successful of what to do and what not to do?
[00:17:37] Thomas Barr: Yeah, a little bit. So, our membership program, those 3,200 businesses are all members of Local First. And so, what we do is we try to get businesses, all of the creative information that we can possibly pull together from experts, from other entrepreneurs, that helps them stay on their toes and think creatively about the level of service they need to provide, technology that’s at their hands, things that are being tested in different areas of the country, best practices, and then in the moment, resources and information, which really bubbled up in COVID. And everybody really looked at us when COVID started as, you know, we were really in the spotlight because we had to. In servicing 3,200 businesses plus having, I think, we have over 400,000 followers on social media now, we had a responsibility to position ourselves to help as many businesses as we possibly could.
And so, in that moment, it was really, okay, not only do we need to make sure that businesses know how to apply for a PPP loan and an emergency disaster loan, but we’ve got to get them thinking six, eight, ten weeks ahead. You know, I was telling businesses at the end of March, early April, “You’ve got to make a plan to get to November.” This is not going to be a three-week thing. I don’t know if you remember when the first shutdown came in, it was two weeks, right? There’s only two weeks that we weren’t going back to school and our team sat down and we’re just like, “No way, there’s no way businesses need to be thinking two weeks ahead. They need to be thinking six or seven months ahead, like what are you going to be doing?” So, we really had to bring in, you know, we reached out to partners and we looked at what was happening at the rest of the country that there were already hotspots happening and we said, “Here are the things you need to prep for. Here’s where you need to be in eight weeks. You need to start planning and have your six-month plan now.
[00:19:43] Thomas Barr: So, really, that’s what we’ve always done is what we did through COVID. We just repositioned ourselves to be prepared to deliver resources in that moment, which is what we always do.
[00:19:57] Andrew Rafal: Statistic-wise, if you look at your members and let’s talk a little bit about the PPP, do you have a number, or did you do a survey out to see how many actually received PPP money?
[00:20:11] Thomas Barr: The majority of businesses that qualified for and applied for PPP money received it in the second round. Very few received it in the first round. I mean, we all heard and saw the horror stories of potbelly and whatever that is.
[00:20:29] Andrew Rafal: The Lakers.
[00:20:30] Thomas Barr: Yeah, the Lakers.
[00:20:31] Andrew Rafal: Steak n Shake. Who else?
[00:20:34] Thomas Barr: Yeah. It was just ridiculous. Really, that stems from and what I’ve been telling people is that experience is actually always the experience that we live within of small versus big business. It was just put under the microscope in a time of crisis. We always know, we know that big businesses are taking advantage of our economic structure at all times. But in that moment, we were really put in the light of what’s always happening. And so, we really elevated the conversation about the importance of community banking because I talked to businesses who had accounts and were members of large banks for 20 years. And in the matter of a second, we’re just a number.
They were just a number waiting in line to see if they were going to get a loan to save their business. And what we saw the community banks do was they stepped up. They started reaching out to businesses that weren’t even members of theirs, that didn’t even have accounts of theirs, worked nights, worked weekends, did everything they possibly could to try to save as many businesses as they could. And looking nationally, the numbers that came out was that 62% of PPP loans that went to small businesses actually were funneled through community banks and it’s because of how they’re structured. They actually have relationships in the community, right? It’s not just a representative. They are on the ground, they know who these businesses are, they know how to work with them, and it was really, really exposing of how we need to long-term really think about how we could invest more and put more dollars into our community banks because those are the ones lending out to our small businesses more long-term.
[00:22:35] Andrew Rafal: Right. And you guys have always been a big advocate of that and never, like you indicated, never like we saw it than in March and April. We didn’t know there’s going to be a second round. So, just the fear people had is like, “I can’t get in queue. I’m in queue but I can’t even figure out if I’m actually applied or not.” And we saw and we have a lot of stories, exactly as you stated, where these banks, the local banks stepped up and took care of them. And then in some cases, it was these national smaller banks that came in too and it’s just one of those the issues some of the smaller banks have is that they don’t have maybe their financials in order so they weren’t able to just get the banks what they needed because they’re running the show, they’re doing everything, they’re wearing all the hats, and they can’t afford a controller. They may not even have a CPA on staff. So, it’s when they’re asking for two years of payroll and this and that, it’s like, “Oh, my goodness, I don’t have that. How am I going to get it?” And I just got to focus on trying to make ends meet over the next week so I can make payroll. So, it’s kind of magnified the problem that we see.
[00:23:44] Thomas Barr: Yeah. We called it triage. You know, from I would say March 15 to the end of April was just this triage state, panic, uncertainty, stress, anxiety, really not knowing what was coming next. And you know the second round of PPP was helpful to a lot of businesses, but there were actually also a lot of gaps. So, one of the things we did at Local First was at the end of March, we realized, “You know what, if and when this federal money comes, there’s a lot of micro-businesses like even narrowing down that number even more like I would say businesses with less than three staff that don’t have the time like they don’t have time to wait for that second round. They’re waiting on emergency disaster money, maybe it’ll come, maybe it won’t. We’ve got to do something about it.” So, we launched on March 30 what we call the Small Business Relief Fund.
And to this date, we raised about $2.5 million that we were able to disperse in micro-grants, so not loans, just grants to businesses that they could use on anything that they needed. And what we found was a lot of these businesses just needed to honestly feed their families and put food on the table so that they can get by. These were barbers, salons, caterers, carpet cleaners that people didn’t want coming into their home that had kids at home, that had families, that had rent to pay. And so, we’re able to help over 800 businesses through that program. And then because of that work, the governor’s office actually reached out to us a few months ago and we’re just wrapping up facilitating a $10 million grant in rent and mortgage relief to businesses that were mandated to close over the summer. So, we’ve been really positioned to help out a lot of people.
[00:25:43] Andrew Rafal: Where did that money come from? For the 2.5 million, was that just from larger local businesses, or was that also from individuals?
[00:25:54] Thomas Barr: A lot of individuals stepped up and donated but also some of our local institutions. So, Doug Yonko, rest in peace, from Hensley who just passed away, stepped up and put in $20,000 right off the bat to kick us off. It was so huge to see support from local leaders like that. And then we had Michael Bidwill, the Arizona Cardinals, putting in money into the fund. And then we had local groups like #yesphx, the startup entrepreneurial group, they raised $12,000 just themselves to give back to other entrepreneurs. So, it was really, really incredible how the community came together and stepped up for our most vulnerable businesses.
[00:26:42] Andrew Rafal: I mean, you think about what your core mission is and you saw in March that the banks, the PPP, it wasn’t happening. So, you guys pivoted, got your heads together, rolled up the sleeves and says, “What can we do?” And amazing work in that quick of time that you were able to do that. And whether it was a $2,000 grant or $1,500 but being able to get 600, 700 of those out, changed people’s lives. And the fact that you guys did it so quickly is a testament to what you built and the value that the community sees and being able to help out. So, I think that right there is a tremendous success story. You know, we try to think of and showcase the positives in today’s world and it’s like that is so positive. And hopefully, you guys got the PR that showed the rest of the community what you guys are doing out there.
[00:27:35] Thomas Barr: Yeah. Well, I’m just grateful for a really strong team that came together and realized we needed to act. You know, our leadership team decided we were going to move to work from home actually a little early. So, I think it was March 7 that our whole team moved to work from home. We saw what’s happening in Seattle and we said, “If that happens in Phoenix, we can’t be in transition from office to work from home when all these businesses are going to be calling us, needing us.” So, we got everybody from home, got them a desk, got them internet they needed, supplies, whatever, get settled, get set up. And then I think it was March 17, I think it was St. Patrick’s Day when the governor announced the shutdown and it was just like full-on just all day we were just going. And so, I was just grateful for our team. It just really speaks to how we always, again to your point in the beginning, how we always need to be supporting businesses and coming together for them. And this pandemic has just really exposed and put a light on how we always need to do it.
[00:28:48] Andrew Rafal: You guys eventually will get back to the office, right? Like you’ve been able to keep the magic together and keep the coordination and the culture but as the months drag on here, has it got harder and harder to connect with the team? I mean, I’m sure you’re Zoomed out, Zoom tired. Like, what’s that look like for you guys as you’re running Local First, keeping 30 people plus all the volunteers that you have? How are you doing it? And are you able to continue what you guys were doing prior to working virtual?
[00:29:22] Thomas Barr: Yeah. So, it’s definitely evolved over the last six months. The first three months of this was so busy that our team was actually just doing great because there was little distraction. Our marketing team had so much work to do developing a COVID resource page on our website, always updating it, pushing out communication to businesses nonstop. And so, for us to not have driving time and all this in-between stuff happening throughout the day, it really, really allowed us and enabled us to deliver what was needed without going into the night every single day. So, I think that was really, really helpful for our team to be positioned that way but you’re right. Long term, you get a little drowned out. You get a little the days that you have just Zoom after Zoom after Zoom, it’s just like, “Oh my god, like can I interact with somebody like actually talk to somebody?”
And so, we sat down and we thought of some creative things that we could do. First was we knew our team was working really, really hard. And so, we actually gave everyone three additional paid days off but they had to take within an eight-week period. And that was really important to us because with the amount of effort with not only the businesses were stressed out. We know if you’re handling calls and dealing with all these businesses that are anxious, that puts some stress on you as well and so we want to make sure our team was healthy and taking care of themselves. The other thing we did is we started hosting a cultural team meeting that everybody needs to attend on camera where we’ll give some updates, some high-level updates of things going on in the organization that week but we’ll also spend time just getting to know each other and really learning about what people are doing and experiencing.
[00:31:23] Thomas Barr: We’ll do different things each time. We’ll do different breakout groups, answer questions, interact, try to make it a time when that’s enjoyable and not a forced experience that, “Oh, I got to go to a team meeting,” but something that people actually look forward to. And it’s really, really helped our culture have some legs through the distancing. And then some of our team members will use our office from time to time. So, we have a protocol, no more than six people at a time. Make sure you’ve got your mask if you’re coming and going. Register here to make sure people know you’re going to be there. And so, we’re slowly kind of transitioning to this hybrid of work at home, use the office if you need to kind of model which is great. I think it’s going to transition slowly but it’s good to see people right now and then. I had my first coffee with a member just last week and it was really nice to just spend time with people in the community differently than we have been in the last seven months.
[00:32:32] Andrew Rafal: Right. It makes you appreciate those people in your organization even more and you maybe get to know people a little bit better by doing the Zoom cultural because you’re spending time talking to somebody that maybe you would never talk to because you’re running and doing your thing and they’re in their own department doing their own thing.
[00:32:47] Thomas Barr: Right.
[00:32:49] Andrew Rafal: And so, I know education and networking has been a backbone of Local First all these years. So, what are you doing right now? I know what you’re doing but explain to the listeners what’s going on in the scope of the weekly and the monthly networking events, as well as the education events to help them become better business owners, whether it’s from the marketing side, the financial side, or just the creative side of what’s out there. What are you guys doing?
[00:33:18] Thomas Barr: Yeah. So, it’s transitioned from spending a lot of time planning and facilitating events to more one-on-one time with businesses. So, our team got a whole team that’s focused on just outreach to businesses. We’re connecting with them on the phone or over email or over Zoom, helping them make sure that they have access to everything that’s available, whether that’s applying for grants or pivoting their business. You know, in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe right now they have extension of premises permits that you can apply for if you’re a restaurant or a barbershop. So, making sure businesses know how to do that and have examples of best practices, these are all things that most business owners we found are in their business right now. And we hear this all the time and talk about all the time when you’re in your business, you’re not working on your business, which sometimes can complicate things for the long-term strategic planning, and future pivots you need to make.
So, we’re trying to be the eagle eyes for all these small businesses that we know are working within their businesses right now to help them access that kind of information. You know, that comes out in a lot of different ways. We’re facilitating one-on-one coaching and training and consulting but we also are facilitating weekly webinars. We’re bringing in experts to share on everything from marketing to everything you should know about your Google My Business account right now and your Yelp and your TripAdvisor, how you should be updating them, making sure people know how you’re being safe, how you keep customers safe. You know, a lot of businesses are trying to rebuild consumer confidence right now. So, we’re not fully back to normal. There’s a lot of people out and about right now but not everybody is. So, if you’re going to make the choice as a consumer to visit a small business, you need to be reassured that you’re going to feel safe when you’re there, right?
[00:35:16] Thomas Barr: People are going to have masks, they’re going to be socially distanced, there’s going to be hand sanitizer, whatever it is. So, getting businesses up to speed on all these changes and things through the form of webinars, through trainings, that different type of stuff. And then really just looking to the future, what is this going to be like? How are businesses going to benefit from continued social distancing? So, we partnered with a few chambers on doing some speed networking events, on Zoom. Those have been fun. And we’re just, I think, completely open to the collaboration that can happen among different business groups right now. The answer is yes for, “Do you want to work together?” So, anything that’s out there that we can work with other business groups on or partners, experts, I mean, just being here today is great to share the resources that are available out there.
[00:36:16] Andrew Rafal: And if I’m a business owner, if I have an expertise in a certain area that can help a business and I want to give back, how does somebody like that or if a business wants to give back, what does that look like in regards to being part of the Local First community and providing something that may be a value to the members?
[00:36:36] Thomas Barr: Yeah. So, we’ve got a whole online portal for our members. It’s called our Local Learning Lab, and only our members have access to it. And it’s a whole library of podcasts, videos, business articles, and blogs that we’ve reached out to different partners to share expertise and information on. So, you’re going to find different categories of things. It may be information about social media, maybe information about payroll and HR, maybe financing, restructuring your business, different things you should be thinking about right now. And so, if you’re an expert, if you’ve got information that you want to share, come be a part of Local First. Let’s get you in front of these 3,000 businesses. Not only is it beneficial for you because it gives you a platform to share your knowledge but you’re helping, right?
At the core of it, you’re helping at least 3,000 or so businesses think differently or get information that they really, really need right now. And so, we’re a relationship-based, relationship-focused organization. We’re not just about transactions. We’re about the long-term development, how can we partner and work together in creative ways to both help businesses and help you? You know, not every business needs the education. Some can give it. And so, we want to know who you are. We want to put you on a platform to tell your story.
[00:38:11] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. It’s a win-win in that context. And in the show notes, listeners, there’s going to be a link. If you had questions in regards to anything financial, as Bayntree works with a lot of business owners, we can provide you if you have questions with no cost. Just give us a call, shoot, and send us an email, and we’ll have one of our team members call you and be able to maybe drive you in a good direction. So, that’s something that we’ll have on the show notes. And then Thomas will work towards trying to determine what are some of the things we can do to provide some value if it’s a webinar or something that’s just basics of how to financially structure your firm in these volatile times that we don’t know, not just next week, but what next quarter is going to look like or even next year.
[00:38:56] Thomas Barr: Right. Absolutely.
[00:38:57] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. Because in the one industry that I’m sure you guys are focused on and trying to help more than a lot of them are having to struggle, though, are restaurants. Those are a business that’s, again, pre-COVID hard enough to be successful. You know, I think the percentage of restaurants that make it versus not make it are few and far. It’s a much higher ratio of those that have a tougher time. So, when we think of restaurants and one of your initiatives is the local farms. What’s that looking like right now? And how can we help these restaurants, the local restaurants, and in other eateries and cafes and so forth? How can we help make sure that they make it through and also the farms that are struggling as well right now?
[00:39:45] Thomas Barr: Yeah. Thanks for asking. So, unfortunately, it’s still a pretty devastating world out there for a lot of our restaurants. They’re all still really struggling. You know, those that are a one shop are probably our most vulnerable that we need to support and put attention on. With the summer, restaurants always expect a dip in revenue but not a complete dip. And then with the pandemic coming in mid-March, mid-March to late April is when our restaurants fill up their coffers of great, great time because a lot of people are going out, the weather’s nice, and they’re filling the coffers up to sustain themselves through the summer. So, they didn’t get that this year. So, now we’re coming to the fall. Like, we were talking before, we have a little bit nicer weather now.
So, if you feel safe and are able to go visit a restaurant, do it and find those neighborhood businesses that you want to be there that you want to have once we revive the economy and come out of this thing. We’ve got to go the extra mile, we got to go the extra effort for them. If you don’t feel safe doing that, find ones that are still doing curbside pickup to go and continue to support them in every effort that you possibly can. It’s really important. We prioritize it. We think about it because we can’t just take them for granted and think they’re all going to be back. We, unfortunately, hear about another restaurant pretty much every day that’s closing for good. And we as community members need to focus on helping them. So, I really stress that. And then there’s a lot of restaurants out there that are committed and have committed to sourcing from local farms and local food producers and they tell that story and share that message.
[00:41:49] Thomas Barr: And so, we actually have another website. It’s called Good Food Finder AZ where you can find all the local farms, farmers’ markets, and food producers in Arizona. So, if you’re looking to support those businesses, farmers’ markets are still open. They’re still out there. Go support those local businesses. There’s not a lot of major events going to be happening this fall. Even our fall festival is not going to be happening. So, all those experiences that businesses typically would have to market themselves for the holidays or get the word out about their products, most of them are not going to be happening. So, at every effort we have, seeking them out and supporting them is really important.
[00:42:33] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. A shame that you guys aren’t going to be able to have a fall festival, but just like you guys have evolved from in the past and continue to evolve. Let’s tell the listeners a little bit about what’s on tap with the e-commerce site, Shop Arizona, that you guys have built and you’re going to be rolling out in the next month or so.
[00:42:51] Thomas Barr: Yeah. Absolutely. So, this came from us analyzing back in I believe it was May. We looked at consumer reporting that had skyrocketed for online purchases. We saw the biggest increase ever in people shopping online. So, again, trying to be the best predictors possible and looking into the future, what were businesses small business is going to need in five, six months, we said, “Well, if this trend continues because, yeah, maybe we’ll return to going back out again but people are picking up the habit that they might not get rid of, of shopping online. If we don’t position as many businesses as possible, small businesses, to have their products online, they’re going to miss out on a ton of revenue and all of our money’s going to be shot to the big boxes and the Amazons of the world.”
So, we developed with some great local partners, a great firm called Ideas Collide, build an e-commerce site. It’s called Shop Arizona and what it’s going to be is really just the best of the best. It’s going to be small businesses across our state selling art, gift cards, crafts, clothing, records. You name it. And each business is only featuring their top 10 items. So, they may be introducing a new cool product for the holidays or maybe it’s a gift for mom during Mother’s Day that they’re going to be featuring. But you know when you go on to the site, you’re going to find some really cool unique stuff every time you go. So, it’s not going to be like an eBay or an Etsy or an Amazon where you type something in and you find it like flashlight or whatever it is. You’re coming here to find really cool, unique items and knowing that you’re supporting small businesses right here in your state.
[00:44:52] Thomas Barr: So, the goal is to provide that platform for these businesses that might not have it. We’re going to market it like crazy to our 400,000 followers, secure a ton of media to blow it up, and make sure people know about it. And the really cool thing is that we’ve actually committed to taking zero percent of the sales. So, a lot of different sites out there that small businesses are on, a percentage of the sales is actually taken from the business for you to purchase from them there. That’s not what we’re going to do at Local First. If you’re spending $20 on a record, that $20 is going straight to that small business. So, we’re really, really excited about it. It’s going to launch right before the holiday season, so about a week before Black Friday, and it’s going to be a place that maybe you’re not comfortable going out and facing holiday shoppers this season, well, we’re going to have a platform for you to support small businesses.
[00:45:46] Andrew Rafal: And it’s the one way that you can, all of us, can battle against Amazon. And I know how convenient it is and things of that nature and all of us who listen probably get two or three packages a week, if not more, because it’s easy. And so, having the ability just like when you go to the coffee shop or the hardwood store and you’re able to buy something that’s local, in a sense, it’s a little bit of pride. It’s pride that you’re not just feeding the Amazon, the big powerhouse. They come in, they can just take over any business, any industry. So, if things going to be then delivered from the stores themselves like is there going to be distribution? Or how is that going to work?
[00:46:30] Thomas Barr: Yeah. So, it’s going to start out with, I mean, you’re just essentially just making a purchase straight to the store. So, it’s a transaction between you and the seller. They’re going to get a notice that you purchased something on the site, and then their team will just fulfill it and ship it to you. So, it’s going to work pretty much how Etsy works. When you buy something on Etsy, you’re buying it from the seller. But eventually down the road, we’re looking into potential distribution efforts should businesses want to pursue them. I just had a conversation last week with a really, really cool local business in Tucson that actually is a distribution center. They service over 100 small businesses and they distribute everything from clothing to medical supplies. I mean, you name it, and it was a really cool setup. So, we’re going to be looking into things like that, that will actually help scale the purchases even more long-term. So, for now, it’s just going to be a quick transaction with the seller but we’re looking for more equitable, long-term ways that we can help the businesses.
[00:47:35] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. Well, it’s great that you’ve got the reach with the 400,000 followers and then the 3,000 plus businesses. It’s a lot different than you trying to start this as a startup with really no following. So, I think it’s a great idea and it’s definitely needed. And if everybody comes together and looks and says, “Let’s focus on helping the business, let’s focus on helping the community,” it’s got I think a lot of legs to it. This is a fantastic idea. And I love that you’re not taking any money from them either, letting them run. So, I assume then that the platform, the expenses on it is being covered from the grants, or not the grants, but the money that you guys raised in the coffers over the last year or so?
[00:48:18] Thomas Barr: A little bit. Yeah. So, we’re going to have it so that you got to be a member. So, you got to be a member of Local First to be on the site, which is really affordable. If you’re a small business with less than four employees, it’s only $99 for a year to be a member. So, we’re still the most affordable business membership in town. And with that, you not only have access to getting your products on the Shop Arizona site, but you get access to everything else that we do. You know, our member directory where people search for local businesses is still going to exist. We’ve got all of our education, our Local Learning Lab, our webinars, we’re branding materials for you. And then we have a ton of media opportunities. We’ve even right now been doing a cool segment every Thursday with Arizona Family 3TV where Jaime Cerreta will go visit three different locally-owned businesses around town and give them a shout out, do a Facebook Live, put them on live TV. Those are all members of Local First and so you know, as joining, you get access to a ton of really, really cool stuff. And we’re always here for you. So, we’re always thinking creatively about how to help.
[00:49:27] Andrew Rafal: I mean, it’s the biggest no brainer out there. If you’re not a Local First member, you got to get part of the group and it’s $99. I mean it’s almost free. You know, that’s the amount of money that you’re going to spend on Prime for the year.
[00:49:43] Thomas Barr: Yeah. You’re paying more for Netflix.
[00:49:45] Andrew Rafal: Yeah. There you go. And you know, Netflix sucks you in, and all of a sudden you can’t run your business because you’re watching 10 shows in a row. So, as we wind down, the one last thing I wanted to talk about is with Local First you guys have the foundation. How do they correlate, interconnect? What are you guys doing with the foundation just so the listeners can get a better understanding?
[00:50:10] Thomas Barr: Yeah. So, we think of all of our work at Local First as a Local First Arizona, right? Technically, on the back ends we have two entities that we operate and that’s really just structural so that we can apply for grants and facilitate certain work. But a lot of the work that happens to our foundation is work that some people know about, not everybody. We operate an additional set of programming that really works not only to provide opportunity for different communities, but really, it’s focused on addressing inequity in our state, in really strategic ways. And I won’t go into every program, but for example, we have an accelerator program that we run for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. It’s called Fuerza Local. We launched this in 2013. It is a six-month accelerator that Spanish-preferred speaking businesses can apply to and go through.
It’s taught completely in Spanish by our team and our instructors. It’s really great not only do businesses going through it get to build a business plan, a marketing plan, all of the things you need to run your business, customer service training, etcetera, but the unique thing is that all of the businesses participate in a money pool. And this is really common in Latin American countries where you would put money into a kitty with a family and then every month one member of that family gets the pot of money. So, let’s say you are participating with 10 people, for $100 a month, everybody puts $100 in every month, and then one of the months, you get the thousand dollars, right? It’s a way to save money, interest-free. And so, we have all the participants in the program do that. And then we actually report their payments to Experian.
[00:52:10] Thomas Barr: And the majority of these people and these families, these entrepreneurs are graduating through the program with their first-ever credit score. So, while entering the program, a lot of them are going to payday lenders and check cashing facilities, which take 35%, 40%, 45% off the top for them to cash checks, whereas they go through our program, they graduate, they’ve got a credit score, we make an introduction to a credit union, and they open up their first-ever bank account and they’re getting access to a 7%, 8% loan interest rate for their business, which just changes the landscape of their family. So, we’re really excited. We’ve graduated over 600 businesses through the program over the last seven years and we’re continuing to expand. It’s now operating in five different cities across the state.
[00:53:08] Andrew Rafal: Fantastic. So, listeners, you can hear that Local First is doing so much. If you’re here in Phoenix, if you’re here in Arizona, and you’re a business owner, or if you’re not, just get involved and get involved in the community and help in any way you can. We don’t know where the end of this year is going. Obviously, next year is still up in the air. It’s a turbulent world and, Thomas, you guys are doing everything you can to help get all of us through it. So, we really appreciate it.
[00:53:37] Thomas Barr: Absolutely. Thanks for having me today.
[00:53:40] Andrew Rafal: In today’s show notes, we’ll have everything that we talked about, how you can get involved, some of the links out to the various sites that Thomas talked about. So, again, Thomas, Local First, we appreciate everything you’re doing. Listeners, stay tuned for another episode of Your Wealth & Beyond later this month. Happy planning, everybody.