The Power of One Product

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Every chamber of commerce and Main Street organization in America talks about buying local, but is anyone paying attention? The residents of Greater Franklin County, Iowa are.

So, what is it that has gotten the attention of this community? It’s one product. That's right, just one product. Rather than talking in generalities about buying local, the Greater Franklin County Chamber of Commerce (Main Street organization in Hampton, Iowa) has chosen to focus on one product for its campaign. That one product is toilet paper. And, since the kick-off of the campaign in November 2011, it's been on a roll (pun intended) with no sign of wearing thin.

Why toilet paper? Toilet paper is one product that everyone uses, regardless of gender, race, age, or socioeconomic status. Not only does everyone use toilet paper, but it is also a product that is readily available at a variety of retailers in Greater Franklin County. When you talk about buying local in general terms, people have plenty of excuses why it doesn't work for the:  the stores in town don't carry what I need; they don't have the brands I like; the merchandise isn’t my style, and on and on. When you talk about buying toilet paper locally, those excuses go away. 

The uniqueness of toilet paper as the product focus of the Hampton’s “Buy One Product Local” campaign has really created buzz. The first reaction of most people is something along the lines of, “toilet paper...seriously?” But once they hear the numbers, the light bulb goes off and they begin to realize the difference that buying local could make in their community.

According to kimberly-clark.com, the average person uses 105 rolls of toilet paper per year. The population of Greater Franklin County is 14,987, so the annual toilet paper consumption in Greater Franklin County is 1,573,635 rolls. At an average cost of $1.25 per roll, residents of Greater Franklin County spend approximately $1,967,043.75 on toilet paper in a year. According to information from local retailers, though, total dollars spent on toilet paper in Greater Franklin County in 2011 totaled approximately $335,800. That means there was a sales leakage of $1,631,244 from just that one product.

That $1.6 million lost translates into jobs for family members, friends, and neighbors of the residents of Greater Franklin County. They are also tax dollars that could be used for community projects, such as the new bike trails in the area or Hampton's new aquatic center, the skate park, and tennis courts. In some cases, that revenue could mean the difference between a favorite store keeping its doors open or closing for good—all because of toilet paper.

When you start talking about $1.6 million leaving their community, people take notice, especially when it's lost on something as basic as toilet paper. As a result of the “Buy One Product Local” campaign, members of the Greater Franklin County Chamber of Commerce are still hearing stories from people about how they used to go to big-box stores 30 miles away out of habit to buy their toilet paper. Since the start of the "toilet paper campaign," however, they are buying it, and other supplies, from local retailers. Some even say that they bought Christmas presents locally because, if toilet paper sales can put $1.6 million into the community, just think what sales of things like a GPS or jewelry could do!

Not only has the “Buy One Product Local” campaign caused local residents to think before they head out of town, it has also worked to unite Greater Franklin County traditional retailers, specialty shops, and Hispanic retailers for a common cause. The grocery and discount stores in the area quickly jumped on board, of course, but so did specialty shops that don't even sell toilet paper. Some shops ran special ads and promotions centered around toilet paper, and others took the opportunity to display 105 rolls of toilet paper along with flyers giving the facts on buying toilet paper locally.

A local bed and breakfast invited people to "roll on in" with stickers placed on individual rolls of toilet paper. Informational hand-outs were translated into Spanish to get the message out to all members of the Greater Franklin County community. Hispanic retailers joined in and promoted buying local to their target customers as well. Buying locally affects all segments of a community. The retailers in Greater Franklin County understand this and have come together to get the word out. All with the same message of buying just one product—toilet paper—locally.

Rural America is probably never going to completely stop residents from heading to malls or larger urban areas to shop from time to time, and selling toilet paper won’t make retailers rich. But getting residents to stop and think before heading out of town for basic supplies will boost the local economy. Buying toilet paper locally is a small, painless step that leads consumers to think about what other things they could buy in their community. And, if toilet paper can add $1.6 million to the local economy, just think what laundry detergent, steaks, or baby gifts could do!

It’s as simple as this: THINK BEFORE YOU SHOP!