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November 01, 2009

Top Desk

Big Help for Small Business

by Orville Thompson, Founder, CEO, Scentsy Inc.

Top Desk

Scentsy’s Contribute 2009 Stimulates Local Economies

Micro-entrepreneurs understand the power of the personal connection. In today’s increasingly detached, virtual marketplace, the opportunity to do business face to face with someone we know and trust has become more meaningful than ever.

The direct selling industry is made up of small local businesses by definition—what could be more local than person to person? And, thanks to the Direct Selling Association (DSA), independent sellers have the best of both worlds; we can keep our micro-enterprise focus and still enjoy the benefits, credibility, resources and support of an international industry organization.

Buying Local Is Good Business

In tough times, small, family-owned businesses are usually the ones most at risk. However, it is typically small businesses—and the strong local economies supporting them—that lead the way to economic recovery. According to the American Independent Business Alliance, every dollar spent with a local independent merchant returns three or more times as much to the local economy as a dollar spent at a chain-owned business. That’s because those local dollars keep circulating in the community. Small businesses are more likely to buy from local suppliers, hire local service providers, and contribute to local charities and causes. Locally owned businesses also tend to provide jobs that stay in the community.

Rallying to support local businesses is a win for everyone involved: Customers get quality goods and services from merchants who understand their unique needs and preferences. Community ties are strengthened, family-owned businesses carry on their legacies, and the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes.

But the aspects of buying local that seem to appeal most to consumers are the intangibles. Retailers know their names. They get special treatment instead of “one-size-fits-all” goods. And, perhaps most important, they feel the satisfaction of knowing every purchase they make is appreciated.

We each have much more influence than we often realize when it comes to our choices about how we use our purchasing power. As individuals, our $25 here and $50 there might not seem like much. But what if thousands of Americans were to spend an extra $50 at a locally owned small business, wherever they lived, on or about the same day? Can you imagine the powerful ripple effect it would have on local economies and communities all across the country?

That’s exactly what Scentsy’s Contribute 2009: Big Help for Small Business campaign is working to accomplish.

The goal was to inspire 100,000 people to pledge to spend $50 or more at locally owned small businesses in their community beginning Oct. 12, 2009.  We also asked everyone who signed up to invite friends and family members to join them, for an even greater impact.

How Contribute 2009 Began

Contribute 2009 grew out of a novel idea for celebrating Scentsy’s fifth anniversary. When my wife, Heidi, and I launched the company in 2004, we based our business philosophy on a quote from Albert Einstein that has always inspired me: “Try not to become a man of success. Rather, become a man of value. A successful man takes out of life more than he puts in. A man of value will give more than he receives.”

In just five years, the rewards of honoring this philosophy have surpassed anything we expected, thanks in large part to our hardworking employees, passionate Scentsy consultants and our involvement in the DSA.

So, instead of throwing a big party in some exotic location, the Scentsy “family” decided to do things differently. We celebrated by putting the “contribute more than you take” principle into action, right here in our community.

We distributed a total of $100,000 among nearly 1,000 employees, suppliers and their family members, and asked them to spend it in $50 increments at small, locally owned businesses here in Idaho’s Treasure Valley.

We chose 40 businesses based on employee nominations, and on Saturday, July 18, the Scentsy teams went out shopping in groups, so that each business benefited from at least $2,500 in additional sales that day. It was our way of expressing gratitude for the tremendous growth and prosperity Scentsy has enjoyed over the past five years.

The event impact was greater than we could have imagined. In addition to what we gave them, Scentsy employees spent more than $10,000 of their own money and asked how they could do even more. Business owners skeptical at the beginning were surprised and glad to discover that there were no strings attached, and that our day of buying local was the real thing and not some kind of publicity gimmick. Some owners were in tears. Others said that it was thanks to our buy-local day that they were going to be able to make it through the summer.

But the comment that best summed up the business community’s reaction came from this Boise business owner.

Because of your generosity with your employees, not only did we have one of our most successful days, but there was also a great sense of community. I truly think what comes around goes around, and I’m sure that you’ll see continued success in your business. We can only hope that we can turn around and carry forward the same way to show appreciation to our community and customers.

The response of business owners, employees and even the public was so enthusiastic that we realized our simple idea had the potential to make a powerful difference in communities all across the country.

That’s when Contribute 2009 was born.

How the Program Works

Contribute 2009 is not a “give back” program, where you donate money to a cause or charity. Instead, it is a “contribute more than you take” program.

If you purchase something for $50, you receive $50 in goods or services. If, however, you spend that $50 alongside others in a united effort, you deliver hope to family-owned businesses that need more than economic stimulus; they need support, encouragement and publicity. Someone spending $50 for a pair of shoes, for example, is an isolated occurrence without much effect. But when five people buy $50 shoes at the same time and 100,000 other people across the country are doing the same thing, it makes news, it provides hope, and it stimulates future sales for the local economy.

The Contribute 2009 program is simple, and anyone can take part. To participate, visit and fill in the brief pledge form. Then, on Oct. 12 (or any day afterward), join with others in your neighborhood to spend an extra $50 dollars each with a locally owned small business that could use your support. That’s all there is to it. Contribute 2009 operates on the honor system—participants are not required to provide any receipts or documentation.

The Power of Working Together

Small businesses are at-risk in today’s economic reality. But we can each take one simple, personal step to make a difference, and by taking that step together, we can magnify the ripple effect of our actions. I invite you to visit and pledge today.

By spending as little as $50 at a local small business and encouraging others to do the same, we can spread hope and collectively contribute to lives and livelihoods right where we live, work and raise our families, supporting the business owners who support our businesses.

Orville ThompsonOrville Thompson is Founder and CEO of Scentsy Inc.