How do you nurture a vibrant retail environment by promoting local merchants - not only in your town, but also in the region? That was the question posed by entrepreneur and marketing professional Jason Sutherland, who lives by these words: Enjoy. Local. Livelihood.
It's the motto driving his business, PeninsulaShops.com, a merchant-supported community web portal that Sutherland founded for residents of the San Francisco Peninsula, just south of San Francisco. Sutherland and the67 businesses with bricks-and-mortar establishments in the two-dozen towns just south of San Francisco are part of a geography-based local movement to promote the area's variety of local shops. And he says, anchoring the movement is affordable, web-based software powered by Wild Apricot.
"We're like a chamber of commerce on steroids," said Sutherland. "PeninsulaShops.com is an umbrella that unifies merchants who are dispersed geographically. We engage and educate shoppers about the great mix of retailers available to them from Daily City to Mountain View,from the inlet of the San Francisco Bay to the coast side."
Sutherland, a 32-year old freelance graphic designer-turned entrepreneur, founded Peninsula Shops in August 2009 with a goal of enlisting50 merchant members in three months. He surpassed his goal before Thanksgiving with 67 merchants and is certain that membership dues of $20 per month will generate operating revenues needed to remain in the black and expand.
Sutherland combined the popular social media platforms Twitter and Facebook with an opt-in email campaign and discussion forum to promote his business and his merchant members. He launched the Peninsula Shops Twitter Treasure Hunt in November, where shoppers signed up at PeninsulaShops.com to receive clues to answer online questions about local establishments. The correct answer made you eligible to for prizes such as gift certificates or products from participating retailers.
"The Wild Apricot platform enabled me to push content not only on our web site, and email, but through social media channels," said Sutherland. "We embedded our home page with widgets so that once we tweeted a clue on Twitter or posted news on Facebook it was dynamically published on PeninsulaShops.com."
Besides web hosting and development,Wild Apricot technology is driving every aspect of the PeninsulaShops.com portal. Sutherland says the software offers all the programs he needs under one roof for:
- Enabling consumers to sign up for free registration
- Accepting membership and monthly dues from merchants
- Sending email communications to all audiences
- Posting calendar items about upcoming events and assigning daily give-away prizes to each merchant.
In just 30 days, Peninsula Shops' followers grew from 500 to more than 700 combined on Facebook and Twitter. And the merchants of the shops are enjoying instant ROI and gratification.
"We had a 26% response rate when we gave away a one-night stay at the 5-star Stanford Park Hotel in Menlo Park,"said Sutherland. "An organic soap merchant's daily web traffic tripled when we offered a $25 gift certificate as a Twitter Treasure Hunt prize. We are doing unique things for customer awareness and getting merchants recognized. Most importantly, we are boosting local business," he added.