One idea we’ve kicked around for a while is that merchants can generate business tips and customer referrals for neighboring merchants in a strip mall, or down the street. Why shouldn’t the cooking store people refer customers to the gourmet grocery? Or the hardware store people refer customers to plant nursery? At least, they can share tips about landlords, taxes, advertising and supplies.
At this point, several companies have tried it. It has been a leading premise behind the launch of local sites such as MerchantCircle and ShopCity.
The popularization of social media has led former Constant Contact executive Eric Groves to try it once again with Alignable, his new startup. Groves contends that there is vast local knowledge in pockets throughout communities. But many SMBs miss out on marketing opportunities because of the isolated state they operate in. “They never connect with people who are just 10 feet away from their dry wall,” he says.
Alignable makes it easier for merchants to share information; post calendar information; and other information. For SMBs, it is a growth engine, says Groves. What’s in it for him? Because there is generally so little overlap between the customer bases of neighboring merchants, the combined resources of hundreds and thousands of merchants represent a new way to reach a large quorum that could easily rival the reach of a local newspaper or broadcasters.
Informal surveys conducted by Alignable show that overlap rates between customer lists are generally less than two percent. A large community such as Austin, for instance, already has 700 businesses on Alignable. If the majority of Austin merchants were to signup, it would represent a combined reach of 1.5 million, Groves estimates.
Other fast-out-of-the-gate markets for Alignable include Denver, Phoenix and Oakland. In fact, the service is now available in 3000 communities representing every state, as well as Canada.
Looking forward, Groves sees opportunity not only to hook up neighboring merchants and their customers, but vertical players across the county. Health and Wellness has been an early winner, with MindBody Online serving as a strong partner for Alignable, says Groves.
Alignable is a member of the 2014 Future Stars, and will be part of Future Stars Alley at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing Sept. 22-24 in New Orleans. You can register here.