Local First Arizona teaches local businesses how to leverage their story

LFA founder Kimber Lanning presents Tuesday night to local business owners. (Andrea Estrada)

In response to a massive chain-store-to-local-business shift in the Phoenix metropolitan area, nonprofit group Local First Arizona held a business seminar, which presented fundamental guidance toward a healthy, interconnected local economy.

Nearly 40 LFA members gathered Tuesday night at the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) with LFA founder Kimber Lanning to learn about the significance of self-sufficient communities.

“We’re the culture of the community,” she said. “We [need] our local businesses to be glorified.”

The seminar opened with key local business concepts, which included retention, expansion, place making, branding, marketing, clustering and value chains.

“We at Local First Arizona like to have very real conversations about real job creation,” Lanning said, describing the coalition’s goal in job expansion. The founder explained how for every two jobs that a chain store creates, three jobs are lost.

“I am sharing this with you because I want you to be able to [think] about your business in bigger-picture [terms],” she said. “Local businesses keep more money here and create more jobs.”

“Dig deep and tell your story, and don’t be afraid to tell it,” she told the crowd as she explained that a well-thought-out story helps build a sense of place and community, something she considers essential in a local business.

Lanning also emphasized the importance of building partners and joint marketing. She advised to never overlook anyone as possible contributors.

“We believe strongly that local businesses need to collaborate and cluster together [because] they’re stronger together,” she said. “It’s really about thinking bigger than just your business.”

In closing, Lanning told seminar attendees how they could contribute. “Shift 10 percent of your spending to locally-owned companies, look locally for talent first and vote with your wallet,” she said.

Sarah Grone, who works for SARRC’s social enterprise business, Beneficial Beans Cafe, said the seminar encouraged her to increase local spending.

“This is great,” Grone said. “I’m grateful that this community comes together to make Phoenix better.”

Grone, who has worked at the locally-owned center’s garden for the last two years, said that SARRC stimulates local business growth by training adults with autism to learn employment skills they can use within the community. Grone said SAARC is set to open another café location at the Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix next month.

Tempe-based local yogurt and coffee shop Aloha Yogurt owner Whit Harbaugh said what he took away from the seminar was the importance of local businesses supporting each other, banding together and fighting the battle.

Harbaugh said the seminar also taught him the value of properly telling the story behind a business’ cause.

“Not just who you are and what your business is, but who you work with and why,” he said. “There’s so much more, like what led up to it.”

Harbaugh added that what surprised him most from the seminar was learning that supposedly irrelevant facts can actually result in an impactful story.

Envisioning a center with a community atmosphere, Harbaugh opened his self-serve frozen yogurt shop in 2010 shortly after graduating from ASU, eventually expanding it into a coffee shop as well.

“My goal was always how can we take our somewhat simple product and make it more fun and enjoyable, [while creating] a community gathering space,” he said. “Where the yogurt and the coffee are what we have to sell to stay in business, [it’s] not the entire reason [people] come.”

Harbaugh said the best moments are when he sees people who don’t come into the store together connect inside his shop.

Contact the reporter at amestra4@asu.edu.