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Innovation Lab: Tips for Implementing Technology and Online Platform Projects

May 20, 2020 | Innovation Lab: Tips for Implementing Technology and Online Platform Projects | 



Left: New Bern, NC, Courtesy Swiss Bear, Inc.; Right: Downtown Niles, Courtesy Niles Main Street

Earlier this week, we announced the recipients of the Grills Fund for Main Street Revitalization, which will provide eight Accredited Main Street America Programs $10,000 each to help fund innovative revitalization efforts to address the current and/or legacy impacts of COVID-19. We wanted to give you the details on these creative responses to the effects of the pandemic so you can implement similar programs in your community. Keep reading to find out about two Main Street communities that plan to use technology and online platforms to support their small businesses, and get tips to launch these projects on your Main Street. 

Bear Towne Marketplace: Swiss Bear, Inc. (New Bern, NC)

After their small businesses struggled to weather the impacts of Hurricane Florence and then COVID-19, Swiss Bear, Inc. knew they needed to come up with a long-term solution to in-person shopping disruptions downtown. They decided to build a digital marketplace that would have the convenience of a single purchasing site and pickup location, while fulfilling their residents’ desire to support local businesses. Bear Towne Marketplace will be a digital one-stop shopping tool that will provide convenient online shopping for customers when they are unable to visit physical locations and allow retailers to sell inventory safely. The platform will give merchants without an ecommerce site an opportunity to sell goods, while allowing merchants with existing platforms an opportunity to expand their online presence. The website will launch in the beginning of November in time for the holiday season. 

If you’re interested in launching an online marketplace to support the small businesses in your community, consider these tips to get started:

Leverage convenience fees and sponsors to financially support your marketplace:
  • Swiss Bear, Inc. plans to have a merchant paid convenience fee applied to each sale, which will fund the administrative costs of the program, website maintenance, and a promotions fund for Greater Downtown New Bern.
  • The program also plans to pitch the platform to sponsors to get additional funding.
Engage with your merchants early and often:
  • A Main Street committee will meet with Downtown New Bern businesses early in the summer, in a socially safe manner, to determine the product and store information needed for each entry and to work through the details of notification, pickup, shipping and payment.
  • New Bern will also provide trainings to downtown businesses in using the site before the November launch.
Don’t forget about long-term goals:
  • Swiss Bear Inc. hopes to use the marketplace as a business recruitment and retainment strategy.
  • The the site will help to create a stronger coalition of Greater Downtown businesses and recruit even more businesses downtown.

Meet ME Downtown in Niles: Niles Main Street (Niles, MI)

With a major chain shopping corridor just fifteen minutes from their downtown, Niles Main Street wanted to find a way to remind their residents about the importance of supporting local during this crisis and well into the future. To encourage residents to support downtown establishments, Niles Main Street will create an online sales portal for their local businesses called Meet ME Downtown in Niles. The website will tell the stories of small business owners and include a sampling of what they sell or the service they provide. Meet ME will serve as an online connection for businesses not currently online and link to the individual sites of those that already have an online presence. Niles Main Street hopes Meet ME will be a legacy project that both brings businesses into the digital age and allows shoppers to connect with their local businesses. 

If you’re interested in launching an online sales portal to encourage your community to shop local, consider these tips to get started:

Use the power of storytelling to make shopping local personal:
  • Niles Main Street has already started posting stories about their small business owners on their social channels and plans to use these stores on Meet ME. You can check out the writeups on social here.
  • Meet ME Downtown in Niles will include a one-page intro for every participating business, featuring a casual picture of the people that make the business run, along with a short story of what they want folks to know about them, and a list of what they do. 
Develop a marketing plan:
  • Along with the website, Niles Main Street will create promotional materials, including posters, window clings for participating businesses, car window clings for customers, t-shirts, and shopping bags.
  • Niles is planning to advertise the site with a local newspaper and radio media.
Use your online marketplace as a tool for growth:
  • Niles Main Street will use Meet ME Downtown to connect with small businesses in the area that are not members of the organization.
  • Learning how to better tell their story to the community will give Niles the opportunity to make connections with people who they can ask to become financial supporters of the program.

Disclaimer: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for legal, insurance, liability, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your own legal, insurance, tax, and accounting advisors for guidance on these matters.