Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Web-based directories promote local buying

By LANE BLACKMER
Capital News Service

LANSING—Some small businesses are doing more than just rolling with the punches of the economy—they’re stimulating it by encouraging potential customers and clients to buy locally.

An Oregon-based company is helping some of them in Michigan with local promotions, thus shoving tax dollars back into the pockets of locals.

“A significant amount of people that don’t understand that when you go do business somewhere else, it funds those schools,” said Geof Schuetz, owner of RelyLocal Rochester. “I just think it’s important that we try and keep as much as possible local within our community. “

Schuetz launched his RelyLocal branch around October.

It’s also more cost-efficient for businesses than advertising in the Yellow Pages, since Yellow Pages cost $500-20,000 a year and RelyLocal costs only $300 a year, according to the RelyLocal website.

It may look like a directory at first glance, but Ken Whitinger, owner of RelyLocal Lansing, said it’s much more than that.

Local-only businesses not only get a directory page, but can also post pictures, menus, coupons and branch off to social media like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Whitinger said he promotes RelyLocal Lansing through networking, but mostly through social media.

“The big companies are putting money into marketing to promote their brand,” said Whitinger. “It’s a good thing for small people to do that too.”

Michael Rogers, vice president of communications for the Small Business Association of Michigan, said small businesses struggle with the need for marketing skills and promotions.

“Big companies, they have huge national marketing budgets,” he said. “That’s a huge hurdle for small businesses.”

Whitinger started his branch last February. He said he’s the first he knows to start a site promoting local business in Michigan and so far he’s seen results.

In April, he said, RelyLocal had just 100 hits, but in October, the site saw between 12-and-13,000 hits. Fifty-eight percent of those hits were from people returning to the site.

“It takes a few months to get yourself set up,” Schuetz said. “You can’t get the website going until you have 100 businesses on board.”

To open a RelyLocal branch, it must be registered with the state and with search engines. Schuetz is registered with 10 search engines, he said, and search engines alone are bringing in potential customers to listed Rochester businesses.

“We’re not doing anything but people are clicking the site,” he said. “We’ve gotten 70 hits in two weeks and we haven’t even gotten our marketing started.”

RelyLocal also offers job listings. Whitinger said job listings within a 40-mile radius of Lansing are on his website.

Rogers said the main reason small businesses are important is because they help create jobs.

“It’s really fantastic news when GM adds 600 jobs, but it gets a lot more attention than a lot of small businesses each adding a small number of jobs,” he said. “If 60 small businesses add 10 jobs a piece, that’s still 600 jobs.”

Schuetz said the Rochester area alone has 25,000 jobs available.

“It’s just another effort of somebody trying to spark the economy,” said Steve Eieff, a roofing contractor for Elieff Brothers Roofing Inc., who pays for a page in RelyLocal Lansing. “I really think that small business is going to be what’s pulling us out of this.”

Elieff not only encourages people to buy local but also buys local for his business.

“As a consumer and a businessperson, it’s important to keep money here, he said. “I try to lead by example.”

But RelyLocal doesn’t work for every community.

For example, Whitinger said a business owner tried to open a one in Coldwater, but wasn’t able to find enough businesses to be on board because residents already shop locally.

“Buying from big business doesn’t happen as much in less populated areas of Michigan,” he said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Economy

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