Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"The Little Man"

As I spent some time this weekend getting prepared for Halloween, I had a great breakfast at the Sonoma Chicken Coop in Campbell, Calif.. It is technically a chain, but there are only two here in San Francisco Bay Area. It was a great place to watch the Raiders beat Tennessee.

I was walking downtown in Campbell among the local businesses at the farmers market, and saw quite a few great local merchants, like GrendelSweets. Campbell has done a great job of protecting a real downtown area in the middle of one of the largest metro areas in the country. Reminds me a lot of the Alan Jackson sound on the little man. One of the lines goes something like this...

Now the court square's just a set of streets

That the people go round but they seldom think

Bout the little man that built this town

Before the big money shut em down

And killed the little man

Oh the little man

You just have to wonder what happens if small merchants don't find ways to innovate and take on the big box stores out there, leaving the local streets with none of the businesses built by the little man.

Monday, November 28, 2005

"Follow me to Kepler's. It's our bookstore."

THAT'S THE SLOGAN on the back of the new, black t-shirts at Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park, Calif. The beloved independent bookstore just recently reopened after a bevy of community members helped pitch in with energy, enthusiasm and investment.

Pictures from the Save Kepler's bookstore rally. See more on Flickr.

It's a great demonstration of just how important local businesses are to communities - how they're often at the center of where families spend time, where customers spend money, and where all that investment is returned in a stronger local community. (Check out the pictures from the Save Kepler's community rally.)

Kepler's is in a great location in Menlo Park, and families often pop into the bookstore after grabbing some food at nearby at Cafe Borrone. Kepler's is the kind of bookstore I'm sure you've seen in your hometown, too. Bookstores like the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colo. or Dawn Treader Book Shop in Ann Arbor, Mich. Or Midnight Special Bookstore on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif. (a great place to see stars while perusing your literary fancy.)

Kepler's closed suddenly earlier this year, much to the community's surprise. As a result, passionate customers and volunteers chipped in, helped build a new business plan and marketing strategy, and raised money to get the bookstore back on its feet. In a demonstration of how beloved the bookstore is, on the day of its reopening, it sold five times more books than usual.

The community depends on these businesses for its relationships to flourish. The businesses depend on these local customers to stay in business. It's a symbiotic relationship that pays dividends in more ways than cash.

Let me know the names of your favorite local bookstores, and we'll print them in our next blog post.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Welcome to MerchantCircle!

Welcome to MerchantCircle!

We're excited to open the doors to what we believe is a better way of helping local businesses help each other, better compete with the big guys and ultimately, build a stronger tie between businesses and the communities they serve.

Local businesses have always been a very strong part of our lives.

Ben's Favorite Local Businesses

"I remember growing up with all the local businesses in my hometown of Fairhope, Alabama. I often spent Saturday chatting up the high school football team's prospects while getting a haircut at Ken and Vernon's on Fairhope Avenue, and then afterward, grabbing a burger at our family barbecue joint, Ben Jr.'s on Section Street. Local businesses are where we spend family time together. Of course there were other local businesses that were important to me that are not there anymore as well, such as Daphne Pharmacy where they not only opened in the middle of the night to bring me medicine but also where I started working at 13."

Wayne's Favorite Local Businesses:

"For me, local businesses have always been the best place to help me figure out how to fix things at my house. I'm often at Tuggey's hardware store on 24th Street in San Francisco checking out fixtures or tools. The folks at West Coast Video always have the best recommendations for new hit movies and hidden older gems. I only get that kind of help from my local neighborhood merchants."

These merchants were always the experts on the neighborhood, with great referrals and leads to other local businesses. They were the places where we spent our money and our time, all the while developing strong memories and bonds with our community.

Now, we're really thrilled to help these local merchants go further, become more successful and gain a stronger presence in their online and offline neighborhoods. We've talked with hundreds of local merchants who have said they want better ways to connect with each other and more efficient ways of reaching customers. Customers have said they want something that's more than just a yellow pages listing. MerchantCircle is happy to provide that solution for both merchants and consumers. Today is just the beginning, and many new features and services are planned for MerchantCircle in the coming weeks.

We believe the following ideas, and you'll hear us talking more about them in the future:

1. Local merchants working together can compete with the big guys.
2. Merchants want to help other merchants be more successful.
3. The community is a big part of what makes local business so compelling.
4. Customers love merchants who provide special deals and insights.

Here's where we need your help. We're counting on your feedback, thoughts, ideas and critiques to help us focus on what's most important. Let us know what features you want and need. Send your thoughts to, or write them here on our blog. We'll read all of them, and do our best to frequently respond.

Thanks again for all your support, and we look forward to seeing you in your neighborhood soon.

Warm Regards,

Ben T. Smith, IV and Wayne Yamamoto