Phone-friendly site shows Katy specials

Shoppers in Katy might want to know that there is an app for that.

Actually, it is not an app, but a mobile-friendly website the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce has launched to help people find local businesses and special deals.

Chamber president and CEO Ann Hodge said iPhone and Android users can go to to access the mobile site. There is nothing to download.

"That feature launched about six months ago, and it's been widely used," she said.

With the Christmas shopping season down to its last few days, Katy area experts urge residents to not only finish their shopping in town, but to consider doing that year-round also.

"We've got some wonderful stores here and they deserve to have the community support them," Hodge said.

She said local retailers have been using traditional sales and promotions to lure customers, as well as promoting Small Business Saturday sales.

Hodge said that getting people to shop in Katy means changing long-held mindsets. She said Katy residents have been programmed to drive into Houston for a day of shopping because that is the way they have always done it. She said when Katy was a small town, shopping options were few.

"It's been an enormous change," she said. "It's a matter of reprogramming our thinking and saying 'let's look at what is available.'"

Statistics show the value of shopping locally. For every $1 spent at local businesses, $.45 is reinvested locally, according to the Retail Merchants Association. That helps keep jobs in the community and boosts the local economy.

The Richmond, Va.,-based agency said non-local purchases keep, at most, $.15 in the community.

The National Retail Federation reported that, for some retailers, the holiday season represents 20–40 percent of annual sales. In 2011, holiday sales represented 19.5 percent of total retail industry sales. Specific figures for Katy were not readily available.

Online onslaught

Use of the Internet and other technologies is a double-edged sword for local businesses. Although the Internet age brought price-cutting competition for local business, it also provided an outlet in which small business owners can reach other potential customers.

"Social media is very powerful," Hodge said. "That's how we send out a lot of things. That's how we promoted Small Business Saturday."

Small Business Saturday follows Black Friday and is promoted as a day to shop local small businesses. In Katy, several businesses actively promote it.

"You will see different numbers reported, but basically, your shopping dollars are about twice as efficient in bolstering local economies if you buy from a local company rather than with national chains," said Richard Deupree, manager of Katy Budget Books. "We all say we love the atmosphere, service levels and tailored selection of locally owned merchants, but somewhere along the way, we wind up at a mass merchant on Black Friday."

When people do come in a local business, they are often surprised by the diversity and availability of products in Katy.

"We get people in here all the time who say, 'Wow, I never knew this was here,'" said Susan Small, owner of Multiplicity, a combination of artisan-inspired retailer, arts and social venue in downtown Katy. "I just think people aren't aware. There are a lot of small businesses here. I do know that our biggest advertising has been word of mouth. People who come here come back."

Hodge said price-conscious shoppers who turn to the Internet should comparison shop locally first.

"At least give them a chance to earn your business" she said. "I think the biggest thing is just encouraging people to think local."

Hodge said she practices what she preaches.

"I go to Rosemary Nelson at The Cottage Door in downtown Katy," she said. "I know I can count on Rosemary to have something special."

Deupree downplayed the issue of shoppers leaving Katy for Houston, saying competition for small businesses have come closer to home.

"My concern is not losing business as people drive into Houston," he said. "My concern is with the national chains moving into Katy and local residents leaving local merchants and shopping those national chains."

Whether a business is a locally owned franchisee, chain or family owned, Hodge said business owners have a choice.

"They can certainly go to other communities and set up, so they deserve our support," she said.

Merchants are not the only ones counting on people to shop where they live. The City of Katy relies on 51 percent of its budget to come from sales tax, said city finance director Byron Hebert.

Hodge said supporting local merchants affects the quality of life in the community.

"The reason we have the community we do is because of our businesses," Hodge added. "If we didn't have a vibrant business economy, we wouldn't have the quality of life we have. We have to make sure we give back and buy local whenever possible."