The busts in front of the entrance the Merchandise Mart in Chicago are all of prominent white men who founded large retail businesses, including Frank Winfield Woolworth, Marshall Field, and Aaron Montgomery Ward.  And the three largest retailers in the world today, Walmart, Costco and Kroger’s — as well as the online giant Amazon — were all established by white businessmen.  

As one of the multitude of professional women who used to flock to the Merchandise Mart to buy for my shop, I used to joke about looking forward to the day when one of us would be represented in the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame.  Sadly that day will never come, in part because of the demise of the Chicago Gift Show.  

But the other reason that none of us will every be considered a pillar of retailing is that there is an appalling lack of diversity, both gender-related and ethnic, in big box and online retailing.  This is despite the fact that women wield power and influence over an estimated 70-80% of consumer spending, and minority and multicultural shoppers make up markets of exponentially increasing importance.

When you look at independent retailers, you start to see diversity that more accurately reflects our society.  This is yet another reason why the buy local movement is so important.  We need to make sure that consumers realize that locally owned shops are more likely to:

  • be owned by women or members of a minority group 
  • reflect the community they serve
  • carry products that are locally made
  • be actively involved in their community
  • work cooperatively to promote each other’s success

If your store is located in an area that doesn’t already have a way to get the buy local message out to potential customers, I encourage you to check with BALLE (The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) and AMIBA (American Independent Business Alliance) for the extensive resources they offer. Because it’s up to us to make sure that retail diversity succeeds.

Happy Retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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