The phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” comes from an African proverb that considers child upbringing as a community effort.  This can certainly apply broadly to our society – our future strength depends on how each of us supports and helps to build our own local communities.  As the internet and technology that keeps us connected 24/7 offer us more and more opportunities to communicate, shop and run our lives without ever leaving our homes or even talking to someone, it becomes even more important to stay connected through human interactions within our own local landscape.

In January, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) conducted a survey of 3,259 independent, locally-owned businesses including retailers, manufacturers, service providers, farmers, bankers, restaurants and wholesalers. The survey was conducted online in partnership with the Advocates for Independent Business.  Just under half of the survey participants were retailers, and of those retailers, 94 were ASTRA members.

So, what did the survey say? Among independent retailers who participated in the ILSR survey, sales increased by 3.1% over the holiday season. The results from the 94 ASTRA members who responded to this survey showed an average increase in holiday sales of 3%. Taking into account that the news headlines this past week have noted the lackluster holiday sales figures for some of the larger retailers such as Kohl’s, Best Buy, and Macy’s, and that U.S Department of Commerce has reported only a 1.6% increase in overall retail sales in December, it’s encouraging to know the independents saw an increase in sales almost double the overall retail industry.

The survey also identified major challenges facing ASTRA retailers. The top three:

Competition from Internet Retailers                                                              75%
My Big Competitors Receive Better Pricing and Terms                             60%
Competition from Large Brick and Mortar Chains                                      44%

What can we learn from these findings? Of the top three challenges noted above, two relate to the big box, large chain stores that actually gained less over the holidays than the independent retailers. Looking at these statistics and hearing comments from friends, family and conversations at community gatherings, I believe we are close to a “tipping point.” We all crave a personal experience, but with the technologies we use everyday, both at work and in our personal lives, we are losing touch with one another.   Finding someone to help us, let alone genuinely want to help us, in a large store has become almost impossible.  The internet has almost become the “wild west” where you never really know who you are buying something from and the same item has multiple prices, shipping costs and delivery time frames.  Chains start to all look and feel the same.  The irony in the statistics is that we have reached a point where we feel we have become just that – a statistic and not a person.

The tide is changing as we hear more and more voiced frustrations over the lack of anyone really listening to us or caring what we say. As this frustration builds, retailers as well as internet sites that can truly make a connection with their customers will indeed be the winners. Who better to make connections and keep the connections than locally-owned retailers and businesses who know their communities, live in their communities and use the services provided in their communities.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to make us feel connected.  If we work toward building our villages we will all be better for it.


Sue Warfield is the Director of Member Relations at ASTRA. With more than 30 years of experience in the retail and toy business, Sue offers insight into industry trends and tips and works to connect the retailers, sales representatives, manufacturers and affiliates in the specialty toy retailing arena.
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