Andrew Phinney didn’t know what he was getting into when he started a Facebook page called LocallyOwnedRVA.
The 27-year-old electrician just wanted to bring attention to local businesses off the beaten path. He never expected more than a few hundred fans. Since the page went live in mid-January, it has gained more than 11,000 fans and has become a hub for the latest information on what local shop owners and services companies are up to.
BizSense caught up with Phinney to find out what sort of effect his efforts are having and where he plans to take it next.
Below is an edited transcript.
Richmond BizSense: What prompted you to start LocallyOwnedRVA?
Andrew Phinney: I really wanted to make something businesses and people could use to help bring some light to the places that aren’t usually viewable by driving up and down the main streets. The Lamplighter Roasting Company (you can read more about that company in an RBS story here) on Addison and Parkwood was really the inspiration. Here is a great place to get coffee and food, but no one is going to find it because it is on a little corner no one drives by.
RBS: Right now you have a Facebook page and a Twitter account (@LocallyOwnedRVA). Are you planning more?
AP: Right now we are working with Shop RVA and Saturday Stroll to make an event. We want to have face-to-face meetings with people that are participating on the Facebook page. On March 20 we are having a “shop Richmond” weekend along the 300 block of West Broad Street to get people off the Internet and out actually shopping at the stores.
We also bought the domain locallyownedrichmond.com. We have a page holder there now [and we’re] getting ready to expand that. We are trying to do a lot with no money.
RBS: What do you plan to do with the website?
AP: Basically I want to take all info from the Facebook page and move it to the website and put in search engines so you can actually find things. Right now we have 75 different topics on the discussion tab; we really want to find a way to make that searchable. Having neighborhood or community maps is something we’d be interesting in doing as well as links to businesses that have coupons and promotions.
RBS: Have you thought about selling advertising?
AP: I’m toying around with the idea and how to make it a little bit worth our while. We’ll be listing any business that wants to be involved in plain text, if they wanted a link or a picture we could charge a monthly fee to get that. Aside from that, we haven’t figured out other ways to make any money on it. That was never my intention.
RBS: How much time are you spending on LocallyOwnedRVA?
AP: It’s overwhelming. I don’t have enough time in the day to run my business and do everything in between. I’ve cut down a whole lot from when the electricity business was slow. I was doing about six to eight hours a day until my business picked up; now I only spend about an hour or so a day.
RBS: What type of feedback are you hearing from local businesses?
AP: I’ve noticed probably about 10 businesses that have come back and said ‘we picked up new clients.’ A lot of places are happy to have a positive place where they can come and feel comfortable since we try to focus on positive support. We shy away from letting people post negative things. There are plenty of other places online where you can bash on people.
RBS: Do you feel like sometimes you are preaching to the choir? Meaning people who are already shopping local are doing that, and everyone else isn’t really going to respond to these types of campaigns?
AP: It is not easy to shop only local. There seems to be things you can’t afford to buy or find at a local business. I still go to Kroger or Walgreen’s.
The idea is to make people aware of what we do have here and let them know you don’t have to go to a chain when someone local has the same thing. I’ve found out about quite a few businesses I didn’t know existed and I am happy to support, when otherwise I would have gone to Best Buy.
RBS: Has LocallyOwnedRVA helped your own business?
AP: I’ve tried very hard not to pull myself into it. I posted about Phinney Electric once. I wanted to experiment and see the participation if a business offered freebies or extreme discounts so I posted if you respond and “Like” this post, you’ll be entered in a drawing for a $100 gift certificate off labor. Four hundred some people liked that post, and it was a really good turnout.
Since then four or five other business have used us to give away something.
RBS: Why should people support local business?
AP: My biggest thing is to help build the community and help bring people together. I guess the benefit of it is having these businesses here and have the money run through the community, but it is not all about the money.
Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]