Cherie Edilson knows all too well the value that e-commerce brings to small businesses. She also understands that for many, technology is a barrier to setting up an online shop and completing the e-commerce puzzle. It's a gap that her current business, Shop Where I Live, sets out to fill.
Most recently, Cherie partnered with the Iowa Economic Development Authority to launch Shop Iowa, an online retail solution for brick-and-mortar businesses impacted by COVID-19. Shop Iowa brings together retail businesses from across the state into one online marketplace. Browse and buy online and feel good knowing that every purchase you make on Shop Iowa goes to a local business in Iowa.
Craft Fair Beginnings
Cherie's small business endeavors began with her former company, The Pink Barrette, through which she sold most of her homemade girls' hair bows via an Amazon shop. However, seasonal appearances at local Cedar Rapids area farmers' markets and craft fairs were still part of her sales tactics.
After attending a small holiday craft fair that suffered a sparse crowd due to a snowstorm, she remembers the looks of disappointment on the other vendor's faces as their sales that day were almost non-existent.
"Farmers' markets and craft fairs are their main means of selling, and for me, I had a lot of orders coming in online, so I felt like they also needed another outlet to sell," Cherie said.
That night, she went home to her husband Robert, who was in marketing and web development with a local software company, and together they began to form a solution.
In January of 2017, that solution grew into the Cedar Rapids Marketplace, a web-based craft fair that provided an opportunity for local vendors to find an online market for their products. As more vendors joined and started getting online orders, the platform started getting noticed. By the end of the year, NewBoCo's Iowa Start-Up Accelerator team asked Cherie to apply to their program.
"At that time, we weren't necessarily even trying to be a start-up, we were just trying to create a solution," Cherie said. "We just built something to see if it would even work."
After completing the program and its accompanying customer testing and marketplace revamp, the Cedar Rapids Marketplace morphed into Shop Where I Live to include vendors from communities all over Iowa.
Shop Where I Live Growth
Today, businesses from across the state as well as Nebraska, South Dakota and New York are using the platform to sell their products and services to consumers throughout the country without the burden of time and investments that normally come with creating their own online market.
For example, a small business in central Iowa that recently closed its doors due to COVID-19 registered for the platform to sell gift cards to continue supporting its employees. Within 24 hours of joining and connecting to the payment processor, the business made over a thousand dollars in sales.
Along with helping the businesses simply make online sales, Shop Where I Live also provides support to businesses with customer service to shoppers, website development and training for communities. As it finds new partnerships with Chambers of Commerce and similar organizations and more businesses continue to join the platform, Cherie finds new hope in the survival of mom-and-pop shops.
"From the very beginning, the site had this handmade, homemade feel, but it's now finally doing what we imagined it could do, what we wanted it to do," Cherie said. "It's refreshing to see that we are helping to modify how our communities traditionally support local businesses by buying from them online, because we know that this is where the world is going in the future."