If Not Artisanal, At Least Locally Owned

Artisans are having a moment. They are everywhere – from pizzerias to jewelry stores. In fact, there’s even a movement in marketing to attach the “artisan” distinction to products and services that are decidedly un-artisan.

So what’s at the core of this societal shift? And what does it mean for an oil change spot in central New Jersey?

The artisan movement grew from an appreciation of those whose devotion to their craft drove them to great lengths. The artisan baker was assumed to have tirelessly worked on their recipes, inching toward perfection. They’d present nothing less than their best to consumers. And they would stand behind their product, by teaching customers what made theirs better than the inferior mass-produced loaf. In the rare instance of a true mistake or dissatisfaction, they’d move to protect their name, and make the situation right by the customer.

There’s romanticism in the artisan baker.

Then my fellow marketers got a hold of the term. They quickly bastardized it, pummeling the word until it meant nearly nothing. In one reddit post, a marketer voted for the elimination of “artisan” as the fad they were most looking forward to fading.

But there was a reason for this initial growth.

Artisanship was a response was a glimmer of dissatisfaction on behalf of consumers. They were tired of products that were “value engineered” to the brink of existence. Near perfection and uniformity was revealed to be shallow. And people were tired of regional managers who would have to be contacted to process a return.

Artisans were the answer to that.

But what about a franchise oil change spot? The market went for artisan olive oil. How about artisan engine oil? And could that be balanced with the national brand?

As it turns out, the answer was much more simple. Local ownership, the good old “small business”, would satisfy all those needs.

So they posted a sign that simply said: “I’m a small business” and drew a line in the sand. They conveyed that you’d get all the attention to detail of a locally owned business of the 1940’s & 50’s without the pretention and pricing of the Artisan shop of the 2000’s.

Sure there’s a convincing economic argument that money spent locally will remain local. The American Independent Business Alliance says that $.48 of each dollar spent locally stays local, while only $.16 of each dollar spent at a national chain stays local. It’s completely true, with replication from study after study.

But I think money staying within a local economy is at best a secondary benefit weighed in the buying decision. 

The real benefit of the local purchase is the humanity of local ownership. It combats the fear that a larger business isn’t concerned about individual customers, while the franchise helps with confidence. Sometimes a continuum and shades of gray are the best way to explain yourself and your business.


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