Today is my 36th wedding anniversary, and instead of being out doing something fun with my husband as I had planned, I’m at home catching up on all kinds of neglected chores like gardening, laundry, grocery shopping etc. – unfortunately Keith has come down with a bad cold.
Like many of my fellow Canadians, I live in a border town with the US – within “spitting distance” and today in my mail, I received a little newspaper entitled “Shop USA – Must-stop locations south of the US – CA Border”. I’m a very loyal Canadian, and on the eve of Canada Day, I’ve decided it’s time to blog about something that I’ve been thinking about for a very long time – cross border shopping. As I think everyone knows, I do have a bias – I am a Canadian retailer. I also have a bias towards all the things that we Canadians are supposed to hold near and dear – universal health care, our Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, guaranteed minimum income for seniors, and all the other social benefits that we take for granted, and scream about if they are threatened. We seem to forget that they are paid for with our tax dollars – dollars that can’t accumulate if all our shopping dollars leave the country.
It’s been years since I made a deliberate trip to the US to go shopping, but I do travel there a couple of times a year on business, and presently I have one daughter who is living in upstate New York while her husband completes his education. Keith and I visited with them last month to celebrate the birth of their first child and I took the opportunity to go shopping. I wanted to see why we have such huge border line ups, and why we seem to be losing so many sales to US retailers. What I saw surprised me because I really didn’t find many bargains! In the industry that I’m in, I often hear people talking about shopping at some of the big box fabric stores. I visited one in New York state, where they also happen to have a Husqvarna dealership. The perception amongst most of us Canadians is that prices are always less in the US. What I found showed me that perception is NOT necessarily reality! Branded Husqvarna feet cost 15 – 20% MORE there than we sell them for – and if I convert Canadian dollars to US, it was even more!
I was surprised to see that most of their sewing and embroidery machines cost more in the US than we sell them for too – and machines purchased in the US don’t have any warranty coverage in Canada! I found the same thing with our Bernina machines as well, and as far as most sewing notions, the only difference that I saw could be pretty well accounted for with the difference in the value of the dollars. Fabric tends to be a bit less expensive, but people seem to forget that in Canada we are buying metres instead of yards (10% more) and that fabric is expensive to import into the country. I even saw this at the grocery store– while yes, some things are definitely less expensive there, other things that I buy on a regular basis were either the same price or more expensive in the US than I pay here at home (eg. red peppers – $1.99 – $2.49/lb here and $3.99/lb there, cilantro $0.79 here, $1.99 there!).
After doing my comparison shopping, I had to wonder why so many of my fellow Canadians love to shop in the US. I know that it is a huge country and has lots of shopping to offer, is it the larger selection? I know that in our industry, I believe that our selection is second to none, and like most Canadian retailers, we’re happy to special order things we don’t have. This spring at the shows that we attend, I had several people look at things we had on display and comment that our price was better than they had paid for the same thing in the US. I kept asking myself why they didn’t check at home first! I’m starting to think that mostly it is a perception of better selection and better prices than actually exist.
Local retail stores are owned and run by people just like you. We provide jobs for thousands of people across the country, and try hard to support our communities. All around us and across the country, small retailers, including fabric and quilt shops are closing. I’ve had customers come to me and plead with me to always stay in business and never close my doors. I want to tell everyone that if you want your local retailers to stay in business, please shop at these stores and keep your money in Canada, supporting local jobs and our great benefits.
Thanks for listening to me – and have a Happy Canada Day!