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local or big box?

May 11, 2009

For food, give me local over big food distributor food anyday.  But what about other things? 

My son is doing a photography project for 4-H fair this summer and there was no way I was going to let him use my camera.  Over the years I’ve bought multiple one-time use cameras for the kids to use on trips and such – – I’m assuming the manufacturer reuses or at least recyles the plastic of those cameras when I send it in for developing but I really don’t know.  This was the impetus we needed to buy another “real” camera, one that my son will use but that is officially the “family” camera.  We didn’t want anything super fancy, but not junk either.  That said, I had no intention of researching this purchase as I might for something twice the budgeted amount.  A halfway decent camera you can get anywhere.

And that was the next issue.  We could get one anywhere, so where should we get one?  The box stores have advertisements every week with a range of cameras on sale.  On the other hand, there is a privately owned camera store no further away, but would the price be as good?  Were we willing to pay extra to support local?  How much were we willing to spend?  I guesstimated that the box stores could eat $10 – $20 of a camera price for their primary sale item – perhaps even taking a loss.  The privately owned store probably couldn’t do that but might at least sell it for the suggested retail price.  Did we want to save $20 or support local?  We went local.

new cameraI’m satisfied.  The camera I purchases (A Nikon Coolpix L19) is basic, but basic these days means there are lots of features.   H had a blast working with it and I think it fits our needs.  In addition, the price, which was about what it is going for on the web, didn’t break the bank.  I haven’t decided if I want him to take it on his fishing trip to Canada though.  He’s pretty responsible, but…

How did local compare to box stores?  Looking on the web at the box stores I would actually go to, I could have bought a comparable camera for $10 – $20 less, as I expected.  Throwing all my values aside I could have saved $20 – $40 at the store-that-cannot-be-named.  For the very same camera though, the best I could have done was have saved $5 at Sam’s Club or Amazon.com, but add to that a membershp or shipping and there goes the difference. 

What will we do in the future?  Go local.  I know from first hand experience with the businesses in my small town that while I may be able to buy the washer or the car for less elsewhere, the big places can’t afford the service, the follow-up, and the attention I get from the local business.  The big dealership isn’t going to take the time and energy to save me $1,000 on a transmission for the car.  The box store isn’t going to install my appliance and take away the old one for free, or charge me nothing when a problem isn’t with the appliance but with the plumbing (and then talk to the plumber on the phone to explain the problem).  The same principals are at play with other merchandise.  I think we’ll probably go back to that local camera shop when it is time to make prints of my son’s 4-H trick photography project.

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