Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - Your Online Guide to Shopping Locally

Shopping at the mall or the supermarket is convenient: it’s one-stop shopping for a wide range of different products. And yet, there is a particular joy in purchasing and using a handcrafted item and in supporting your neighbour’s small business – if only you could find them.

Marsha Lemon is a busy mother with four young children. She was looking for a baby blanket for her sister in law’s newborn, and she was sure that there were local knitters who made beautiful garments, but how was she to find them?

“I didn’t know where to begin so I looked online, but I couldn’t find anything,” Marsha explains. “When I did a general search for ‘local Saskatchewan’ and ‘made in Saskatchewan,’ I came across lots of industry-specific sites, such as the Saskatchewan Craft Council or the Saskatchewan Fruit Growers’ Association, but with the exception of SaskMade Marketplace, which at that point was under different ownership and seemed more food-based, there was no one website where consumers could go and see a full range of locally-made products.”

Marsha had worked for 10 years in the agricultural industry, but when her youngest child was born, she chose to stay home. This was an opportunity to channel her frustration over being unable to locate a locally-made baby garment to productive purpose.

She would start an online directory for local products and services.

LocalSask Website 
The LocalSask website went live in September 2011. Marsha wanted to make sure that the site provided much more than the basic information, so each member who chooses to advertise their products on her site can post photographs, videos, links to their website or Facebook page, as well as a list of places where their goods can be purchased.

Marsha says that at the moment she is focussing on smaller home businesses as they’re the ones who need the most help with promotion. There has been a great deal of interest from arts and crafts businesses (alpaca yarn, baby quilts and cloth books, jewellery), but the directory also lists food (spice mixes, wild-harvested mushrooms), farm products (signage, garden equipment), and bath and beauty products.

Local businesses pay between $50 and $150 a year to become a LocalSask member. Each member has a page that they control. They develop the content, including their choice of photographs and contact information. There is an events calendar where members can list upcoming activities.

It can be difficult for small businesses to establish an online presence. LocalSask provides a centralized site that provides strength in numbers as well as marketing assistance. “LocalSask is a marketing tool for small businesses,” Marsha explains. “Photographs are so important if you want people to really see what you have to offer. Not everyone is comfortable with computers; if that’s the case, then I am able to help them upload their information.”

Marsha hopes that one day consumers will be able to enter the name of their community on the LocalSask website and locate all their neighbourhood businesses. “I’ve lived in Vanscoy for 10 years,” Marsha says, “I had no idea that my neighbours included Grandora Gardens, See a Book Take a Look, Sylvia Chave, and Night Sky Alpacas. It’s amazing – they’re right in my backyard, and I didn’t know it.”

Marsha is also daydreaming about a truly local Christmas and hopes to develop a Christmas wish book that will help shoppers fill all their holiday needs – from gifts to turkey – locally.

Visitors to the LocalSask website are invited to post comments, providing an outside perspective on the products.

Marsha also uses the Features page to share with readers some of her own experiences as she tries to shop locally and care for her family. For example, there’s a recipe for homemade laundry soap made from soap nuts as well as information about the advantages of locally-harvested wild mushrooms over canned or imported ones.

LocalSask is also active on Facebook and Twitter, starting conversations and promoting individual members’ businesses.

Why not join the conversation? Check out the LocalSask website today. And if you have your own business, give Marsha a call and discuss becoming a member.

Photos: Prairie Pearl Quilts, Happy Monarch Designs Inc.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I had no idea it even existed!