By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
An informal survey by a Havre Area Chamber of Commerce committee about local shopping habits has confirmed a fear of the committee.
"How much money leaving the community is very scary," said Christy Keto, a member of the chamber's Buy Local Committee.
Keto said she is excited about the number of replies the committee received. The committee had 312 responses, including online responses and paper surveys that were available at local stores and at events like the Great Northern Fair.
The responses showed that large amounts of money are leaving town because residents think items are not available locally or are too expensive, she said.
The survey said 43.4 percent of the respondents estimated they spend $100 to $500 a month outside of Hill County, citing lack of selection, prices and product availability as their reasons.
"That was a shocker," she said.
If the survey results are extrapolated to the about 6,500 households in the county, it shows that the county loses between $3 million and $16 million a year in commerce, she said.
She said the committee originally thought using advertising billboards and benches and offering special discounts might help keep sales local. But more people need to be involved in that discussion.
"We decided we don't want to make these decisions for everyone else," Keto said. "We're asking for more chamber members to get on board with the committee and see what they want to do."
One action the committee probably will take is to educate people about what products and service are available in Havre, she said. For example, if people believe there's no place to buy books in Havre, or that hardware is too expensive, publicity about what is available and cost comparisons might change their perception.
The survey results showed that the top eight products or services people leave the county to buy are: books, shoes, building and home improvement supplies, Christmas gifts, clothing, computer technology services, electronics, and major medical services.
It showed that most of the respondents who make purchases outside of Hill County travel for the purpose of shopping, followed by people who shop while visiting family or friends or going to medical appointments.
The respondents said the top 10 items not available in Havre are: varied clothing selections, shoes, grocery items like bulk groceries and organic and gourmet items, books, restaurants, home improvement supplies, medical services, large discount stores like Target and Wal-Mart, sporting goods and electronics.
The respondents said local business owners could best increase their share of local shoppers by increasing their business' selection, giving better prices, increasing customer service, expanding hours and increasing advertising.