Walk inside Jessie Bauters’ Kansas City, Missouri home and you’ll find a print hanging on the wall featuring the states of the Midwest. Beside it in bold text proclaims, “The Midwest: God’s Gift to Planet Earth!”
“If you’re from the Midwest, you know that it’s all kind of the same, but that fact that you can make fun of yourself and your home makes you cool,” the 28-year-old native of Cleveland said.
The poster is just one example of how millenials (those between the ages of 18 and 33) are shifting their buying habits toward local brands in which they can identify with.
Bauters says she “has Midwest in my blood,” and loves that the Des Moines, Iowa-based company, Raygun, that created the poster, is not just selling Midwest-focused products to make money, but to build a community.
Local is Cool
“Local pride is part of the zeitgeist now,” said Raygun owner and founder, Mike Draper, who started churning out products printed with inside jokes about his hometown of Des Moines 10 years ago.
The shtick seems to be working.
Draper has tapped into what he calls a “resurgence of regionalism” similar to the buy local food and drink local beer trend.Raygun
People used to leave their small Midwest towns and head to Chicago, buy a Louis Vitton bag, come back and others would have known they had made it, he said.
“Now, anyone with an Internet connection and a credit card can buy the same brand, making it ubiquitous,” Draper said.
To keep Raygun truly regional, he has no plans to scale his stores nationwide, but will keep them in the Midwest relying on the rabid fans, who’ve done such a good job spreading the word that Draper hasn’t had to market the website.
National Brands Downsizing
His regionally-focused distribution strategy is something that larger national brands are just coming to grips with, particularly as it relates to millennial shoppers.
“When the crash happened in 2008, it gave real estate the time to pause and reflect,” said Bruce Leonard, a managing partner of Bethesda, Maryland-based Streetsense, which specializes in retail and residential planning and development patterns. “Top fashion brands looked at their portfolio and saw that they had grossly over expanded and realized that if you have exclusivity, you are perceived as more desirable.”
That means big name stores are now downsizing the number of their storefronts in the United States and instead are looking overseas to grow their locations.
Leonard sees the shift in no small part due to millennial buying habits, which are very different from that of their boomer parents.
“Millennials live a lot lighter right now. Small apartments, no cars… they spend a lot of their income on food and dining out. The boomers liked buying stuff and things,” he said.
Unlike past generations, millenials are also more indifferent to national brands and instead are looking to eat and buy locally, preferably within the same mixed-use block they live in.Courtesy of fiercelymade.com
Pairing Makers With Buyers
Erin Przekop, a Brooklyn artist, has taken the concept of buying local a step further.
Along with partner Tom Critchlow, the two have launched fiercelymade.com, an online collective of more than 20 Brooklyn-based makers selling handcrafted products.
“Our goal is to encourage people to surround themselves with the things they love and that are most important to them,” Przekop said. “And to buy things that last a little longer.”
Przekop, whose background is in fashion design, saw first-hand the inefficiencies and high cost both monetarily and environmentally of manufacturing overseas. Seeing that prompted her to search out a way to support and showcase local makers.
Fiercelymade.com provides varying price points on its products to make them affordable to a larger demographic and differentiates itself from sites like Etsy by offering a custom section where buyers and makers can be paired for individual projects like custom furniture or artwork creation.
Przekop has positioned the site primarily for Brooklyn-based artists and buyers (although the site does ship nationally and internationally to customers).
“We are happy to stay as the underdog in the market. Brooklyn houses such amazing talent that we are trying to expose our neighborhood, the one we love,” Przekop said.
That being said, she sees the model they’ve created as something that can expand to other cities as a way to support local buying.
“Our shirts say support your local maker, not support your local Brooklyn maker,” she said.
If Bauters is any indication, millenials are already doing just that.