Instead of buying World’s Finest Chocolate from your child’s school, how about buying Lexington’s best barbecue sauce or Charleston’s tastiest teas?
Columbia entrepreneur Ken Carey is trying to make that possible with a new venture called Local Happiness. The venture’s goal is to keep money made from fundraisers – schools, Scout troops and churches – in South Carolina.
“It was an idea that I thought was just perfect,” said Kevin Ayres, owner of State Street Snacks in Lexington, which recently signed up to be included in the program.
Local Happiness is the latest push in a “buy local” movement designed to get consumers to consider buying S.C.-made products to help local business owners and the economy.
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“There have been ‘buy-local’ campaigns all over the country. It’s always an attraction,” said Grant Jackson, senior vice president for community development at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, calling Local Happiness “a fine idea.”
“It’s a good way for the person who’s manufacturing the product to broaden his or her market,” Jackson said.
Ayres, who has run State Street Snacks for 11 years, making and packaging different varieties of caramel popcorn, said he has been trying to find a way to sell more of his products locally. He has a presence in major retail outlets, including Cracker Barrel, Rite Aid and Piggly Wiggly. But of all the states he sells in, South Carolina ranks 17th on the list.
Only about 3 percent of the “couple million in sales” that his company does each year are in South Carolina, Ayres said.
Carey’s idea could help change that.
The idea is to keep fundraising money local so it helps South Carolina’s bottom line. Currently, about 60 percent of fundraising dollars go to out-of-state entities with the remaining 40 percent staying in the state, Carey said.
Selling S.C.-made products would help local companies and keep 100 percent of the money in South Carolina, where it would have a ripple effect, he said.
Carey hatched the idea after seeing a story about a local pasta maker who donates pasta to schools for spaghetti night fundraisers. He thought about how often his own children brought home fundraising booklets – for products such as wrapping paper and cookie dough – and the plan came together from there.
He has signed up a couple of dozen companies – including the Butter Bath Co. of Greer, which makes natural face and body-care products, and the Orangeburg Pecan Co. — who are featured in the fundraising booklet. More products are available online.
Prices for products range from $11 for a bottle of Palmetto Pepper Potions hot sauce to $100 for a set of four hand-crafted Gamecock glasses. Most products cost less than $20.
Carey’s idea resonated with Kristie Jones, who took the reins of the Brockman Elementary School PTO this year. Brockman is Richland 1’s public Montessori school.
“This is more in line with Montessori’s philosophy,” Jones said, “that we’re all interconnected and interdependent on each other.”
The school will use the fundraiser to replace three of the four it traditionally has held during the school year. And Brockman will take the idea a step further by aiding charity. If the school meets its goal of raising $10,000, it will donate $1,000 back to Harvest Hope Food Bank — rather than having a pizza party or other incentive for its students.
“Everyone kind of benefits,” Jones said. “The kids will really get the connection, too.”
Reaction to the idea at Brockman has been positive, Jones said, adding she has heard from parents who have never participated in past fundraising events, saying they plan to this time.
“The feedback has been phenomenal,” she said. “This is something we’re going to absolutely get behind.”