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Shop My Town: Putting small businesses on the map

Queensland start-up Shop My Town launched in April 2015 to put local retailers on the map, through social media, websites and training. Founder Melody Jarvis says she plans to launch the Shop My Town model in New Zealand in 2017. We asked her how it’s going to work.

Why did you start Shop My Town?

 In the rural area I live in, I found it really hard to look up a business online. I didn’t just want their address and phone number, I wanted to see the people behind the business, and find out more about their story. I’m a mum of three young kids and I was also desperately worried about whether my children had a future in small towns. The concept of Shop My Town is my answer to these problems, as a way local people can know who to support in their town.

Can you explain how it works?

Firstly we create a social connection through a small town Facebook page for each region. This highlights the story behind the great businesses in each town. Then we build a Shop My Town platform, and businesses can purchase our unique product – like a one page website with a built in blog. The real change is cemented with our training program designed to close the gap for business owners who struggle with all the digital changes. We education them on simple and cheap online marketing techniques that make a big difference to their business. Our entire program is tailor-made for small town business.

How do you use social media?

We use Facebook and Instagram to tell the story of the business owners in our region. We also train up an army of web gurus inside each business, who tell their own story through their Shop My Town blog.

What were the big challenges in creating it?

The biggest challenge is in keeping it simple and pared back. We test every new release from each social media platform, to see how it works in small towns. Only when we know it’s a great help to regional business, do we educate our members in how to use it. This filtering ensures that they don’t learn useless techniques, just what will really help them.

How many businesses do you have on board?

We have just finished our build stage, and have 60 businesses on board. This has enabled us to work closely with each business, finding out what worked and what didn’t. With our new investor on board we are now scaling our model to rollout across Australia.

How do you think shopping local helps regions thrive?

The economic impact of shopping locally is very well documented. Much less talked about is the social impact – when you shop locally you develop relationships with your small town business which makes you feel connected to your community. By telling their story online, these businesses become woven into the hearts and midst of their community,

Have you had much support from your local councils?

The Lockyer Valley Council have been extremely supportive, from the regional development team, all the way to the mayor. I was nominated by the council as an Advance QLD Digital Community Champion, and made it through to be badged by the Minister for Innovation, Leeanne Enoch. The council also invested in our VIP Advertising Package, to promote local events through our social network.

Do you think this sort of model could work in New Zealand?

I have spoken to some entrepreneur friends in New Zealand, who were begging me to bring the model over. Our model has been built with a very global approach, and our roll-out is now scaled, so we can start in any region. Small towns have their own magic in every country, and hold the true essence of the country. Once we remove the technology gap, inspiring and funny blogs start to pour out of these local businesses, and there is a big reaction in the community. Our vision is to save small towns for the future of our children, because small town life is just the best life of all!

What advice/tips would you give if someone was to roll out a similar model in New Zealand?

Our first step is for them to register as a Town Connector. The sort of person who becomes a Town Connector doesn’t have to be internet savvy, they just need a great heart for their town. If they are sad about their town and want to make a difference, we can give them the tools to start the social campaign. Then, we build the platform so the town has it’s very own website.

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