Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Local Businesses Everywhere!

We'd like to show you some of the small to mid-sized towns that the majority of people in the U.S. tend to overlook. Most folks zoom in on Silicon Valley or New York City as the places to be for entrepreneurship. And it is true that these are definite hotspots, but definitely not the only spots for business! It's time to showcase some businesses that are coming into their own, building their MerchantCircle sites, and gaining more web presence:

One4U-Services, Inc. out of Albany, Georgia is leading the way in their town with blogs. By the looks of things, One4U is on their way to building a great site for their customers. If you're a business owner in the area, sign in and connect to this merchant and increase your affiliations with your local community!

To kick off the winter season, take a look at Mighty Tidy Air Duct & Chimney Sweep's helpful tips for your fireplace! And be sure to check out the awesome reviews locals have written about Mighty Tidy of Collinsville, Illinois so far.

Ackley's Rocks & Stamps of Colorado, Springs is one of our favorites. Be sure to check out their photo slideshow that highlights their best gems! Helena and Art are doing a great job with accumulating great reviews and communicating with their community -- which reminds me, take a look at their latest newsletter for more info about this family-run business.

Enjoy the holidays and remember to contribute to your fellow local shops this season!

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Major Case of the Runs (Parental Guidance Suggested)

Hell hath no fury like a customer scorn - and unfortunately for merchants, the voice of the condemned rings much louder than the enlightened.

Take for instance this MerchantCircle Safeway listing. I've never been to Wheatland, Wyoming, which means I've never been to this particular Safeway, but ouch - talk about harsh customer reviews. And this Safeway isn't the only target. No stone is left unturned, including deadbeat dads, sexual tolerance, terrorist organizations, and STDs. Heck, customers will even post pictures of dental work (scary), rear ends, and even one of the most hated characters in movie history - not flattering.

A customer will go to great lengths to ruin your business reputation and, as you can see from above, your personal reputation as well. It's like an ex-girlfriend (or ex-boyfriend), spreading rumors about you to anybody who will listen in hopes of ruining your dating chances for life! (I still haven't recovered, but that's another story.)

As a merchant, your business information is everywhere on the web. Several sites allow and encourage consumer reviews - MerchantCircle is the ONLY site that allows you to delete any reviews you find unnecessary. These are YOUR search-engine-optimized listings. Your web presence is an important one and to gain control of that with no strings attached is pretty darn impressive. (Pat on the back.)

So when that ex starts running her mouth about your stamina....err, I mean when that review doesn't fit your needs - delete it. It's like it never existed.

This holiday season, we hope you avoid a case of the runs - running of the mouth that is. (We have no remedy for Aunt Betty's Fruitcake - our engineers aren't THAT good!)


Community Relations

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Who Sucks?

'You suck!'

Would you take it personally if someone out there wrote about you or your business in that way? I would hate to assume, but I would and have. I use to be a television reporter and while you're taught to have a thick skin, inevitably someone out there thinks you do indeed, 'suck'. Unfortunately,

Being an on-air personality, much like being a business owner, you do have to take into consideration what your audience thinks. And while you can't make everyone happy, you do try your darnedest. Management never showed me what our viewers complained about, but I assume it's the same things I complain about when I watch a newscast: "her hair looks like a helmet," "his voice is too nasally," and my favorite, "did this station take a good look at their reporters before they went HD?"

We're all critics, but wouldn't it be great if everything everyone said or wrote about you could be found in one place? That way you can absorb everything people say about you and make the changes you feel necessary. Well, that's what we've done for you here at MerchantCircle. Our merchants can now sign in and see all the reviews and ratings that people have left for them on third party online sites.

People ARE writing about you on the internet. In fact, several websites cater strictly to customer reviews. Instead of trying to figure out where all this information is at, you can see it all under your Merchant Dashboard. We call it the Web Identity Manager and it's just one of the numerous free tools we provide to make sure you can easily handle your online needs from one location.

Check it out, I guarantee that it doesn't..... well, suck.

Community Relations

Holiday Shoppers Like Small Businesses

As we are now midstream in the holiday season, I'd like to encourage all of you small business owners to continue updating your websites. As stores fill with shoppers and roads cram with cars, many customers will opt to take a load off and browse the internet for good deals instead of fighting the masses. This means more opportunity for your website to be picked up by their Google and Yahoo searches!

I just read a BusinessWeek article that quoted a nationwide survey of 2,766 U.S. adults that said 75% planned to buy from small businesses online. And even if you don't sell your products online, having an online profile greatly increases your chances of catching the eye of online shoppers. According to this same survey, the reason these customers preferred to shop at small businesses was because they offer "variety, value, and unique gifts."

So enjoy the season and take advantage of an increase in online shoppers. Show off your coupons and fill your regular customers in on your unique gifts this season!

Check out a couple of our merchants who have the right idea.

1. Ackley's Rock and Stamps of Colorado Springs, CO.
2. Max Muscle of Akron, OH.
3. Therapeutic Massage - Self Kimberly LMP of Burlington, WA.

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

What is Community?

What do you think about when you hear the word "community"? Webster's first definition of the word is "a group of people living in a particular local area." I think of something a little more concrete like playgrounds, baseball fields, volunteering at the Red Cross, family dinners, barbecues, and fun! So to me, community is less about placing boundaries on geography and more about expanding definitions. Community is about finding common interests and sharing insights with people who might not have been in your social/business circle before.

Since we've updated our Merchant Forum, there have been great discussions and tips shared by merchants. The forum is a great place to expand your business network and meet people you otherwise wouldn't come into contact with. You, as a business owner with a website, are in a special place since you can make contacts online as well as offline through your business. Please use every opportunity available to reach out to your fellow business people or just browse the forum and see what your fellow business owners are talking about.

I was looking through our Merchant Forum today, reading some interesting posts by merchants from all over the U.S., and took note of Debbie's Mobile Tax Service, based in Port Hueneme, CA. Debbie had this to say about her newly acquired site:

Pretty new to MerchantCircle
I recently joined MerchantCircle, have added a coupon and a blog, and told a few other businesses about the site. I havent seen any activity from my site either, but I have seen my business name clearly jump higher on Google. It has made me much more visible, so I am expecting to find more people who let me know that they found me on Google. Since the majority of my business is seasonal, I will find out in a few months if more people are finding me.
Debbies Mobile Tax Service

Great work on the website so far, Debbie. I really like how you're utilizing the bulletin board to show off your coupon! And it's always good to hear when merchants notice that they're getting more visibility online. I'd like to see even more people using the forum and stretching the limits of that word "community."

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Features Alert

We're on a constant quest to improve MerchantCircle for our members, and we're proud to announce another great release from MerchantCircle. We've strived to simplify and strengthen our services while fulfilling requests made by our fabulous members. Here are the highlights from today's push:

1. Your merchant homepage has been totally redesigned, our new design is aimed to keep you aware of what's going on in your community and how your business is fairing by providing you with activity reminders and easy to read performance charts. Login now to take it for a test drive!

2. Manage your business's online identity with the brand new Web Identity Manager of your MerchantCircle account. Manage, monitor, and control all the various places where reviews, ratings, and other business information may be found about your company online.

3. Updated Image & Video flipper - Now, on your listing page we include preview pics along with tabs to separate your video and images for your customers to find more easily. We've also included a nifty little slideshow to showcase the many many pictures you have.

4. Image Management - You can organize your images and videos by dragging them into place while in the Image library. Images and Videos appear in the order that they are placed.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on these new features and what we can do to make MerchantCircle even more useful for you. Leave us a comment or send your remarks to

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Value of Creating Online Coupons

As I prepare for my trip to Philadelphia today to attend ILM:06, an industry conference where I will be on a panel speaking about the growth of online coupons, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what our Merchants have achieved using MerchantCircle's free coupon creation and distribution tools.

Released just over a year ago, our coupon creation tools now boast the following statistics:

* Nearly 10,000 coupons were created over the year
* Roughly 6,000 coupons are currently active (implying most were created recently)
* Around 1,000 new coupons are created each month
* The number of coupons doubles about every 90 days

While I'm pleased about our progress to date, there is still admittedly much left to be done. That's why I'm proud to announce that earlier this month we achieved another milestone extending the advertising reach of our Merchants online coupons.

As our customers already know, Merchants have always been able to place coupons for free on the MerchantCircle webpages in their locale. However, beginning this month, our customers' coupons are now also going to be distributed and viewed on other popular local internet sites via an XML feed (for those technical folks out there, the RSS 2.0 feed spec can be found here.)

So what does this mean? It means more potential customers are seeing our Merchants' coupons and are visiting those Merchants' MerchantCircle websites. Consider the following examples:

Clarks Creek Candle Company created a coupon on MerchantCircle a week ago and already has had nearly 225 potential customer visits to their MerchantCircle site to show for it. See her coupon displayed, for free, on one of our new partner sites Oodle (a local classifieds site) here.

Both Jaworski Coatings and All American Gutter have created and displayed their coupons via MerchantCircle. Today, each has over 1,000 visitors (i.e. potential customer) to their MerchantCircle websites each month! That's a lot of customer visits... and many of them are driven by their creation of coupons.

Results like these are encouraging to me as I prepare my thoughts for this week's panel. I hope they are food-for-thought for our Merchants as well. For those Merchants who have created coupons, keep an eye out for an increasing number of potential customer visits, driven by your coupons, in the weeks and months ahead. For those who have not yet created a coupon via our free coupon creation and distribution tools, perhaps now it's about time you did!

Doug Kilponen
Vice President, Business Development

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Merchant Expression...On a grand scale

What if every small town merchant or even every merchant in Manhattan not only was able to express their views, perspectives, opinions, and opportunities to the Local Internet every day---but found it easy enough that they became addicted to it?

A lot of people have told me that this is a pretty dumb question and that it will never happen. I am sure they are wrong. Or at least, I am sure that while not every merchant will participate; most merchants can get to this point. At MerchantCircle we believe we can bring 2, 3, 5M new local merchants online in the next few years. We are so sure, that we are betting everything on it. We have just over 60K online today with a majority having MerchantCircle as their first and only experience on the Internet.

* Do you believe you can get 100M people to build a web page and keep it updated as frequently as 4 times and hour ? Of course not, why would anyone want to waste all that time, where is the ROI. MySpace was sure and they have changed the internet by turning 100M people into publishers of new content.

* Do you believe you can get 70% of college students to spend more time writing on the web than they do in class? Mark and Sean were sure they could and they have not created something that has changed the way college campuses work

* Do you believe that every merchant will express themselves on the web? Wayne, Doug, Walt, and I all believe that we can bring 2, 3, 5M merchants online in the next few years. We are sure it can be done.

As we learn from our experiments and continue to reach towards a model with zero incremental cost to bring another merchant on, here are a few things we have learned:

* Merchants are naturally social people who want to share their story.
* Merchants have something to say
* Merchants want to express themselves and look good on the web
* Merchants are some of the smartest most customer focused people you will ever meet.
* And most importantly, we love merchants...merchants are a blast to get to know and work with-even when they want us to make changes.

As we reach for our next 60K merchants, we are excited about learning even more.

On another note, one of the things we have found as we continue to grow is that a lot of people would like to communicate with our merchants. While we are very focused on protecting our merchants, we are happy to find ways to share interesting information in our newsletter or even ads on some of the places where they spend their time on MerchantCircle. If you are interested in these areas or in picking up some of the thousands of very valuable information feeds we create reach out to Doug. He has some great programs.

Best Regards,
Ben T. Smith IV

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Is Anyone Out There Listening?

Just when you think it's safe to put down that keyboard...... you realize you need to find some stuff to buy for Black Friday. The research is out there - millions of people will be online researching what they buy, before they buy it. Don't underestimate the value of personality. (It hasn't worked for me, but my mother tells me I don't want them as friends anyway).

Speaking of personality, have you blogged lately on your MerchantCircle listing? It's a great way to advertise what you're offering this holiday season, but better yet, it's a great way to distinguish who you are and why. Check out Mike Sansone's blog about whether, you, as a business should blog. It's filled with examples and we even get a shout out! Thanks Mike.

All-American Gutter in Lemoyne, PA made sure that their customers know what they can offer during the holidays with their blog. Nice job out there.

This holiday season, I will offer my stomach as a garbage disposal to my family. But as tradition will go, half of the food will end up as stains on my shirt. I'll remember to wear dark colors this year. Have a great Thanksgiving and remember, people are listening and looking for you - don't be afraid to show them a little something.


Community Relations

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Independent Grocers On Top

Taking customers' opinions into account and meeting their needs has everything to do with how successful a business will be.

I was reading an article in BusinessWeek a few days ago about how independent grocery stores are holding things together even while more "Big Box" stores open around them. The Richmond, Virginia-based grocery store, Ukrop's, is one such independent that began nearly 70 years ago, has expanded to 28 shops, and is considered Virginia's #1 supermarket!

Ukrop's has thrived in the midst of big grocery stores because they've been quick to innovate and have stayed ahead by offering services and a selection of products that the big stores can't compete with. They were one of the first markets in the country to offer gourmet ready-made meals (its main kitchen cooks some 250 different items), they operate a central bakery that supplies all of its stores with ready-to-heat and serve baked goods, and several locations feature the in-store restaurant Ukrop's Grill & Cafe. Can you imagine Costco or Walmart competing with all of that?

Independent stores like Ukrop's are standing their ground by being flexible, introducing new offers quickly, and engaging on a more personal level with their customers. And they're on top of the game when it comes to carving out a niche in the market.

Riesbeck Food Markets out of Ohio, is one of the only independent grocers left standing in the 100-mile radius where it operates, after a Walmart Supercenter popped up 5 years ago. Riesbeck Food Markets is an 80-year-old grocery store started by current owner Richard Riesbeck's grandma! Riesbeck says that instead of trying to match other stores' prices, they concentrate on customer service, cleanliness, fast checkouts, and high-quality products. These are definitely things you can't find at "Big Box" giants.

Other independents concentrating on customer service and community are Gardner's Market of Miami. They support local farmers by sponsoring a farmer's market in front of their Pinecrest location on Sunday mornings from January to April. Draeger's, a 3-store northern California company, caters to the upscale shopper by stocking a wine shop of 3,000 varieties. Two of the three stores offer a housewares department of topnotch cookware and a selection of over 5,000 cookbooks!

With products, services, and community involvement like these stores offer, it's no wonder that people still crave intimate, crafted-for-your-needs grocery stores! Congratulations to these grocers for listening to what people want!

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

New Feature Idea: Suggestions for better MerchantCircle

Hello all,

After some insight from our merchants we've decided to build a brand new feature on MerchantCircle. This feature is a way for merchants to check and resolve any and all issues pertaining to their business's web presence. For instance, did you know that your business is located on a variety of places online, places such as Google Local, Yahoo Local, SuperPages, and CitySearch (just to name a few). And, on these places your business could be receiving reviews and ratings unbeknownst to you.

We have heard from many of you that keeping track of this information, as well as watching for new sites with similar content is important. However, keeping track can be both difficult and time consuming.

Addressing these concerns is exactly what we're looking to build here at MerchantCircle. We want your MerchantCircle account to be your control center to the World Wide Web. You'll be able to monitor the activity of these various sites by making sure your business info is shown correctly and by keeping tabs on reviews written about your company, after all your reputation is important.

The idea is still being built into something we can put on the site and we're looking for additional ideas and thoughts to help us build the right product. If you have any comments or suggestions please follow up here, I look forward to all your suggestions.

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Holiday Sales

With the holidays approaching, I'm reminded of the big sales that go on during this time of year. Stores like Walmart that shred prices on electronics, clothes, and toys, make it difficult for the little guys to compete. The good news is that some industry experts are betting that smaller merchants will win out over stores like Walmart because shoppers are basing their purchases on price, quality, and service, not just price alone.

An article about these "holiday price wars," featured on today, noted that the November-December period is a critical time for retailers, accounting for as much as 50% of profits and sales. Sounds exciting and stressful at the same time! While big brand stores can spend beaucoup money on ads and billboards, smaller businesses with excellent quality goods may feel like they're fighting a losing battle. But the thing that small businesses have that big box stores don't have is loyal customers and community support!

So while places like Walmart may have the financial backing to spread the news of their holiday sales, you have the ultimate advertising campaign - your loyal customers - to help spread the word about you and your excellent services. And we here at MerchantCircle want to help your customers better serve you, especially through the holidays. That's why we have your website set up with a customer review section. So, encourage your customers to leave feedback to let you know what you're doing right and what they'd like to see changed. You'll probably end up hearing things you wouldn't have otherwise!

Our bulletin board section is another great, interactive place to note new sales or happenings. And customers can join in and make notes too! You can check out Central Perk's bulletin board and Monk's Cafe's bulletin board to get an idea of how it works.

With holiday sales well underway and the number of shopping days 'til Christmas counting down, it's good to know that you have great resources for spreading the news about your business! So, use all of the free and easy tools at your disposal, and let us know how your holidays go!

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Friday, November 3, 2006

Welcome to the 'Circle'!

Things are continuing to move at incredible speeds here, namely our merchant growth and so I think it's high time again to highlight a few our merchants.

Check out these new merchants who've really built a great home here at MerchantCircle.

1. Gresham Hypnotherapy Clinic of Gresham, Oregon offers a FREE Hyposis Secrets Revealed Class on the first Thursday of every month.

2. Looking for a quality cleaning service provider in the Brookfield, Wisconsin? Look no further than L & K Cleaning Services.

3. Accounting Management Advisors Inc. of Lake Worth, Florida is offering a FREE one hour consultation if you mention MerchantCircle on a visit.

4. Visit Tre Jolie Salon of Sequim, Washington for hair styling, tanning, waxing, and nails.

5. Me and My Friend Kidstuff! of Uniontown, Pennsylvania specializes in personalized Veggietale, Wiggles, and Barney & Elmo CDs.

6. Learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai Kickboxing, CSW, and Filipino Martial Arts at the Eastern Academy of Martial Arts of Chesapeake, Virginia

Let's all welcome them to the community! And, if your in their area and or decide to make a purchase, make sure you let them know you found them on MerchantCircle.

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Take It For a Spin

Have you ever test-driven a car and had the salesman encourage you to try the competitor's brand? It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it takes you by surprise. What seemed like a great negotiating tactic now seems like you got called out on your bluff. But from the consumer standpoint, this is how it should always be - take what they give you and make an informed decision.

Why make a choice without testing the waters?

The same goes for your online marketing needs. There's been some recent buzz about, including this post by The Kelsey Group. It's got the backing of AT&T and BellSouth, along with 4,000 sales representatives on the ground. Heck, they paid $100 million just for the name! If you're a business, they must be good right? Well check it out for yourself. That's right, you heard us correctly.

One of the reasons a car salesman will happily see you off to another dealership, is the confidence that he's selling you the best product, at the best comparative price. We feel that surely about what we offer compared to everyone else out there. No one, and I mean NO ONE, offers as much as we do to business owners online. I went to and I found my dad's business, but I couldn't do anything with it. I couldn't personalize it, post pictures, enter store information, make coupons....and really, I could go on.

Those services I just mentioned all come free of charge at MerchantCircle. As a business owner, some of your most important decisions come as a consumer for your business. So do yourself a favor and check out what everyone else has to offer and we'll see you back here when you're done.

Community Relations

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Great New Features, Including Customizable Listings

It's that time of month again when we launch great new features to improve MerchantCircle for our members. This month we'd like to highlight:

1. Configurable Listings - Choose from 3 layout templates and 4 color schemes to give your listing its own personal touch. Layout templates include our standard looking page along with an alternate design emphasizing blogs and reviews as well as a minimalist design for those that like a cleaner less cluttered page. Our color schemes include our 'Classic' traditional colors, as well as 'Grape' a purple based scheme, 'Aqua' a pastel based scheme, and 'Olive' a dark earth toned scheme.

2. Improved Forums - We've redesigned our forums at the request of our merchants. The new forums now have rooms for topic discussions such as 'Promoting your Business', 'Listing Information & Questions', 'MerchantCircle Feedback', and more. So, come and join the conversation, share your thoughts, and help your fellow merchants in a place especially made for small business owners.

Have a look and give us your feedback. Every month we roll out something new and exciting, and your ideas are our prime inspiration.

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Merchant Stands Out in the American Heartland

Nebraska is one of those Middle America states that is often overlooked, but Reward Wall Systems out of Omaha is showing customers that they are not to be passed by! The merchant images on their page show off some of their works in progress and give us a feel for what they're about. Scroll through for yourself and see what I mean.

But what really pulls me into their listing is their business description:

"Simple. Strong. Efficient. That's why you build with insulated concrete forms (ICFs). Support. Service. Personal attention. That's why you build with Reward Wall Systems."

Wow! That's simple, direct, and tells me a lot about what I can expect from them as a customer-suppportive business. You can read the rest for yourself and see how great this business is at answering questions before they're asked!

Reward Wall Systems is even good at answering questions when they're asked. From a recent customer question about estimates, the business had this to say:

"Phil, Thank you for taking your time to contact us here at Reward Wall Systems. I do not believe there is any charge for an estimate. Please contact us at 402-592-7077 to speak with your Regional Sales Manager, Jeremy Slechta ext. 117. Or you may email him at Thank you so much for your interest! Rita Lucero Front Operations Manager Reward Wall Systems 800-468-6344 toll free 9931 S 136 St., Ste. 100 Omaha NE 68138"

Reward Wall Systems not only used the customer's name in their reply, but they thanked him (twice) for taking interest in their business and gave Phil plenty of ways to find out more information. This is the sort of service I like to see when I'm looking for a solid business to build a relationship with!

So, Nebraska has Reward Wall Systems to thank for putting the American heartland back onto the map, but I'm sure there are plenty of customers thanking them already!

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Numbers Game?

Trends come and go, but where do they actually come from and where do they actually go? Most trends are a mixture of practicality, desire for change, and a positive buzz. But do trends, here in the U.S., start from middle America out or big cities in?

Torn Levi's, Tickle-Me-Elmo, Mullets - sure, some trends stayed longer than they should have, but "here today....." comes at you a lot faster with the internet. Where would Kyle MacDonald and his Red Paper Clip be without the viral help of millions of internet users? I think it's a safe bet to assume he'd be nowhere near the house he owns today.

MacDonald is from a small town, albeit in Canada, but he penetrated millions of households in the U.S. with the help of the internet - in his wake spurring countless numbers of copycatters and channeling his buzz into a bartering website.

Here at MerchantCircle we came across some interesting statistics the other day. Our highest percentages of merchants are signed on and growing the fastest in states with smaller populations - Idaho, Arizona, Montana. But what exactly does that mean? Could it be that merchants in these states are faster to respond to their business neighbors? Do they have better relationships in their communities?

Merchants have a world of possibilities at their fingertips as more and more people search for products and services on the internet. It's refreshing to see some of our merchants make the most of their opportunities.

As trends come and go, there's no denying that the internet is a portal to millions, and no merchant wants there business to be "here today....gone tomorrow."

Community Relations

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Small Business Appeal

"Want a Massage With Your Move?" That's the title of an interesting story I found in BusinessWeek today (October 12, 2006 issue). The article describes the success behind Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Rabbit Movers. They're a 14-employee, three-truck small business making the most of word-of-mouth referrals and a website. And get this - aside from their website, they don't spend money on advertising! They let their customers spread the word about them by keeping their site stocked with customer testimonials about their great service. What's more, the site also gives descriptions of extra services that traditional and big box moving companies don't offer - massages and feng shui. Now that's definitely something I'd like to try out!

One of Rabbit Mover's customers talks about taking advantage of the feng shui service: "I was mostly in it for the practical aspect: It helped me reduce my stress by helping me set up the apartment in a logical manner." This client has referred two friends to Rabbit since!

Aside from the customer comments on their website, Rabbit Movers also has positive feedback on other business sites like and with posts like "Rabbit movers are awesome. I've used them and passed them on to friends as highly highly recommended."

The article also points out that these guys aren't stereotypical movers. Lyons has done his homework and knows that lots of moving companies around his area have a bad reputation, and he's trying to combat the clumsy, super-macho stereotype. The owner (Shawn Lyons) is a writer and his employees consist of creative types like chefs, painters, and musicians!

Rabbit Movers has even rented studio space in town to display art work and Lyons believes that most of the people that will be attending the upcoming exhibition will be former customers who asked to be added to the Rabbit mailing list! So, it's probably no surprise when I say that these guys specialize in moving art for galleries. A gallery director that uses their services says "What's really great is that they're not just movers, they're really smart guys. In a business you need things that are malleable - people who are quick and able to adjust to what you need."

Wow! I love it when I hear statements like that...a good point that can apply to all businesses! This whole article is filled with positive and helpful tips, much of the same things we at MerchantCircle have been striving to spread:

1. It pays to see what other businesses in your market are offering - what things work for them, what things don't.

2. Differentiating yourself from your competitors is definitely important!

3. You don't need to spend money on expensive advertising to win customers!

4. Having a current website with customer comments to help spread the word about your business is essential!

5. It also helps to have raving reviews about your business on other business' sites.

Mostly, it seems that customers themselves are very helpful in advertising your business. That, combined with support from other businesses in your area, can make all the difference when someone is deciding between a big box store and your local business' appeal and character.

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Entrepreneur Optimism

We were reading an article the other day in U.S. News and World Report. It said "As small business goes, so goes the nation," (Money Watch, Sept. 25, 2006). The article went on to say that entrepreneur optimism had fallen to its lowest level in more than 3 years. We don't like that. Small businesses are the livelihood, of not only your lives, but of this country as well. You create nearly 2/3 of all new American jobs. Somewhere out there is an entrepreneur who will one day hire thousands of people and help them take a step toward their dreams. We want to make sure that first step doesn't falter.

MerchantCircle recognizes the changing marketplace and difficult circumstances it takes to succeed in a world of big box retailers and internet commerce. That's why when it came time to step up, we thought of what we could do to help local merchants even the playing field. We put more than 14 million business listings on our website so that you can claim your listing, build coupons, post blogs and write newsletters - all free of charge.

The internet is where, one day, everyone will turn to in their search for services and products - we want them to find you. While consumer shopping habits and search methods may change, the importance of local merchants in our country will not. Make sure you help out your neighboring businesses by inviting them to join your network. It will help both of you get more clients.

Stay tuned - we're working on a number of new features that will help you bring in customers and make MerchantCircle a one-place stop for all your internet marketing needs. We look forward towards unveiling these new features and changes over the coming weeks. You won't want to miss what we have in store!

Community Relations

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Challenges of Growth: Followup

It's our goal to help local merchants attract customers easily and effectively on the web. The last thing we would want is to cause any confusion for business owners. We take that very personally. We sincerely apologize and are completely dedicated to addressing any and all of the problems that have arisen.

We are addressing the issues at hand in 4 ways.

1) There appears to be a large amount of confusion over "review versus rating" - many merchants did not understand the difference between ratings (quantitative scores - i.e. 1-5 stars) and reviews (qualitative comments - "Good service, great food"). To help address this, effective last week we began changing "review" to "testimonial" on the MerchantCircle site - we hope this removes some of the confusion. Going forward we are looking at further site changes to make the site easier to use and understand.

2) MerchantCircle has responded to every email with a detailed FAQ and a personal response for anyone whose question was not addressed by the FAQ. If anyone still has questions, they can email - we are currently responding to all in-bound emails within 1 business day. Anyone who wants to have their listing page removed can email and include their business name, city, and state and it will be removed within 2 business days.

3) In response to merchant emails, the contact campaign in its current form has been ended. We still want to be able to notify merchants about changes to their page and are evaluating other ways to communicate this information.

4) We received a number of other great suggestions from merchants that we hope to release over the next several weeks. For example, we can do more to prevent inadvertent ratings by site visitors. If anyone has further suggestions, please email

Too often, local business owners don't have the resources to create a presence on the web. We've done it for them for free. The best part is there's no catch for the services MerchantCircle offers.

We provide a web page for each merchant that is optimized for search engines (like Google and Yahoo!) as well as tools that merchants can use to get the word out about their business (blogs, coupons, newsletters).

There are over 14 million local businesses that have pages on MerchantCircle and any merchant can go to and enter their phone # to find their page. Once the page is found, merchants can claim it and update it with any marketing information they choose, or correct any inaccurate contact information. The MerchantCircle service is currently being used by over 50,000 merchants (up from 5,000 at our June launch).

We are a small business, just like many of you out there. Your patronage and experience is our most important concern.

Best Regards,
The MerchantCircle Team

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Challenges of Growth

MerchantCircle is focused on delivering services to enable local businesses to find more clients. As part of this service, we provide a web page for each merchant as well as tools that merchants can use to get the word out about their business (blogs, coupons, newsletters). The free MerchantCircle service is (as the name indicates) free and is being used by over 50,000 merchants currently.

Merchants can receive ratings and/or reviews on their MerchantCircle listing. In the past, some merchants have raised concerns about not finding out their listing was available and more importantly that a consumer had posted information on that listing. We have been experimenting with many different methods of informing merchants when their listing changes. For example, when a listing is claimed, we notify the merchant via multiple methods to confirm identity. Some of these methods involve pro-actively contacting merchants who may not visit the site regularly or are unaware of the listing. These efforts have been made to try and manage a merchant concern.

As you can imagine, this required some investment and some effort. In fact, for a while the entire team of 9 personally contacted local merchants. Anyone who was worked with lots of users can probably guess that this approach does not work when rapid growth occurs. Some of the experiments seem to be having unintended consequences and had some execution issues. We are working to address those issues while continuing to deliver value to merchants.

In addition to our efforts to keep you informed, our system allows users to invite local merchants to join their network, or MerchantCircle. The growth in merchants has resulted in a large number of invites on the system over the past few weeks as merchants figure out that adding to their network will increase the ability of local customers to find their listing. We have received some concerns about this and are working to improve the situation.

Merchants have complete control over their information on MerchantCircle. If anyone would like their listing to be removed from MerchantCircle please email and include your business name and phone # and we will remove your listing from the site and your contact information from our system within the day.

If you would like to use MerchantCircle to help grow your business, we look forward to working with you to continue to improve our ability to bring you local customers.

Best Regards,
The MerchantCircle Team

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Growing a Community of Businesses

Part of growing your business on MerchantCircle is networking between businesses in the same town, folks that you know through community involvements like town meetings, church gatherings, or fundraisers can all be part of your network. These relationships tell your current and potential customers more about you. What's also great is that building your business network is no longer restricted to connections in your hometown. You can expand your businesses reach by connecting to other establishments in surrounding areas and the additional places in which you do business. For example, Sound Wave Entertainment -- a DJ service out of Huntersville, NC - has formed alliances with businesses like It's Party Time from Concord and Digital QuickColor / Sir Speedy from Charlotte.

Through MerchantCircle's Business Network area, there are ways to manage and endorse affiliations like those above. You can let your customers know who you recommend and who recommends you. There's also a forum where you can participate in discussion of topics like "What's your greatest business challenge?" and "Generate More Business Online." So, not only can you promote businesses you already know by endorsing them, you can also make more business buddies through interaction in the forum.

Creating and sending monthly newsletters to your business friends also helps keep them up-to-date with what's going on with your shop. Even though there are several differences between online and face-to-face affiliations, one thing that is the same is that connections form and grow through communication. Communication through blogs, newsletters, and forums is especially important for online affiliations to help compensate for the absence of face-to-face time.

Getting in contact with other businesses provides moral support and increases the amount of customers that are sent your way. It's great how far "does a great job" and "always reliable" goes when it comes to spreading the word to customers!

Check out Anointed Hands from Hilo, HI. They're another business promoting their favorite people to work with. Be sure to take a look at the great things they're saying about those businesses and what business owners are saying about them in return!

When it comes down to it, Business to Business networking can be seen as purely business promotion or it can be seen as community-building between people who want to support fellow local stores and their shared customers.

I hope you're up for building connections!


Friday, September 22, 2006

Moving Forward: Standout Merchants and Growth

Just wanted to touch base with our Merchants and let all of you know that everything is going well. We're growing at a phenomenal rate thanks to our users and those who see us as the best and easiest way to find local customers online. As we've been growing we have and will continue to experiment with different ideas to help your merchant network grow. Some of these will be more effective than others.

As always we're sorry for any confusion that our efforts may cause. Its tough getting things right the first time. Specifically, we've found that work needs to be done to make merchant tools like ratings, invitations and coupons even easier to create so that we can distribute them across the internet for you. It's definitely a big opportunity and one that we are determined to get right.

Check out some of the great stuff merchants are doing on MerchantCircle to acquire local customers.

Heavan Salon from Bronx, NY
PromoHut from Brooklyn, NY
V2K Window Decor & More from Mohnton, PA
A New Beginning Real Estate from Fisherville, VA

Best Regards,

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Merchants That Wow

Thanks to Stand Out Merchants using a variety of our website features, MerchantCircle is becoming an even more interactive community. Customers can really see how their local businesses shine, while business owners can share information and ideas with their customers.

Take Wishing Well Trailer Court from Tucson, Arizona for instance. They have an informative yet informal business description that includes their hours, URL, and the sort of camping services they provide. And when you take a look at their blog, you soon find out that Wishing Well is run by two sisters - Denise and Wendy. And they give us the low-down on good places to eat, shop, and do laundry while staying at their park. What's more, customers have voiced their opinions and asked questions in the customer review section, and Denise and Wendy have been there to greet them every time!

After I finished looking through their site, I almost felt that I knew them...or at least wanted to get to know them the next time I'm camping in Arizona!

Speaking of Stand Out Merchants, one business that can't be overlooked is Events by Clara. Operated out of Hialeah, Florida, Clara has uploaded some spectacular pictures for her merchant images. She's also created three professional quality coupons that look great! Her blog has information on her business with a crisp photo to liven up the page. She even has a newsletter that lists all of her services and contact information. And her friendly motto "Let us do the work while you have the fun" sums up her event planning and coordinating business just dandy. Don't forget to take a look at all of the business she recommends!

It's merchants like these that make MerchantCircle a fun and accessible place to learn about local businesses. I'm sure there are plenty of other merchants sprucing up their sites right now, so if you feel that your business website deserves the spotlight let us know. We're ready to show you off!


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Yellow Pages: No Communication

We've already touched on why Yellow Pages ads are costly and ineffective in previous blogs, but it has just occurred to me the main reason Yellow Pages ads don't work -- they're impersonal. They're ads that say the same thing every time you look at them -- definitely no room for conversation there (unless you like talking to walls).

Where as websites provide a forum for business owners and customers to interact. There are actually people on the other side waiting to hear from customers, ready to talk about their business, and available to see how they can help patrons with their needs.

Not only do blogs and newsletters help merchants keep their customers up to speed on store happenings, customer reviews can help steer business owners in a direction that better serves the people in the community. Some customers browsing MerchantCircle have even used the customer review section as a means of asking merchants questions. And the businesses actually answer back:

Take a look at Pennsylvania's New Hope Photo's response to a customer's query.

And Badger Planning Group from Reedsburg, Wisconsin answers as well.

It's nice to see business owners who treat their customers with respect by answering so promptly. By keeping up with their listing, these merchants remember why they're here in the first place - to gain and keep customers through open communication with them. It's easy to forget customers you're advertising to when you have an ad in the Yellow Pages that's only tended once a year.

For other ideas on how to make your listing more appealing and informative to customers, take a look at some fun sample websites we've created:

Buchman Films (Mad About You)

Blue Moon Detective Agency


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Patriot Day

It's tough to talk about other things on our blog without discussing 9-11. Especially since most of us spent the last couple of days reliving what we all went through 5 years ago.

Since I spent a lot of time around the response during late 2001 and 2002, I sometimes can not get away from the emotional aspect of it all. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve the country in the senior advisor program which I helped create.

None of us will ever forget how many people lost their lives that day. At this same time, there are so many stories of heroism; not only that day, but afterward as well. If you ever have a chance to go downtown next to the site you can see the resilience of the small local merchants. I was down there just after 9-11 when the melted parking meters were still there, the dust was still on the windows, and not only was some of the shops not yet open but most of Wall Street was still closed up tight.

Now 5 years later, my 2 year old is 7; my 7 year old is 12 and the business community around the WTC is thriving. I don't know if this sort of "come back" would have happened in other countries, but I know it will always happen when the American small business spirit is alive.

Best Regards,

Thursday, September 7, 2006

From Pickup Trucks to Merchant Dashboards

One business that seems to have hit the nail on the head is Boulder, Colorado's Pedestrian Shops. Store owner, Richard Polk, opened shop back in 1969 and sold shoes from the back of his pickup truck. You can't get more adventurous and low-budget than that! He soon opened two stores in Boulder. Then, six years ago, Polk decided to step things up by hiring someone to develop a website for his local shoe shop.

The site started out as small and basic, but Polk looks back on it saying, "We didn't know HTML, so we couldn't maintain the site ourselves...a site like ours needs constant updating, and without the right skills, it was hard to keep it up." Polk finally hired a webmaster to develop and maintain the Pedestrian Shops site and says that's made all the difference:

I find that many merchants are much like Richard and want to leverage the Internet to help them get more customers and when done properly can result in a wealth of benefit. However, the myriad complexity of the Internet often leads to merchants seeking web experts to help them in their online endeavors and for some this doesn't come cheap.

Of course, enter MerchantCircle and you have a quick way to get online. And for those with websites don't feel excluded, a properly kept up MerchantCircle listing can help increase traffic to your site while also driving more customers through your door.

If you'd like to read a little more about Richard's online shoe store success, check out this article. And if, like Polk, you're ready to embark in an online site, but want to manage it yourself and not worry with a webmaster, take a look at these MerchantCircle samples to get you started:

Sanford & Son Salvage

Charles Townsend Agency

Cafe Nervosa

Let us know if you get good ideas from these or if you have your own ideas for showing off your store online. And be sure to check out the coupon section (everybody loves a discount), the blogs for keeping your customers up to date, and the Business Network in the Merchant Dashboard area where you can invite other businesses to join your business circle.


Saturday, September 2, 2006

Bringing Merchants Online: A sure thing

I meet with people all the time who want to tell me about the great ideas they have for my business. Frankly, I see one of my primary jobs as meeting with different people and getting their views as I shape my strategy and execution. Basically, I buy into The Wisdom of Crowds.

Having said that, I also believe being sure is a lot more important than being right. I can control being sure even when there is limited information but, I can never control being right with limited information. Since business strategy is almost always done with limited data (unless you run a Railroad), it is a place you have to be sure. I am constantly amazed by people who try to convince me not to be sure with some individual fact. Most big industry changes begin to happen before the data ever allows you to be right so there is always some facts or opinions stated as facts that contradict me when I am sure. Here are some that came up recently:

* The Yellow Pages is a big business and is not going to die since people still buy their ads and a lot of people use them.

* You can never change merchant behavior and most of them don't use the web, so you should just go after the ones who do.

* Revenue is the metric that predicts who will be a great company.

I am not going to spend a lot of time refuting these because it is a waste of your time.

Some of the things I am sure of are very core to my beliefs. For example I am sure that Freedom is a fundamentally good thing for the human condition and that over time free economies win out over closed ones.

Some of the things are just core to MerchantCircle. I am sure that 15M local merchants need to use the web as a vehicle to advertise and express themselves and that bringing merchants onto the web in mass is the most important lever we can focus on for the local industry. I may not be right, but I am sure. So if you have ideas on how we can help bring more merchants online and deliver them the value they deserve so they can stop wasting money on the yellowpages ---let me know.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lots of new features, including better coupons

Every month we launch new features to improve MerchantCircle for our members. This month we'd like to highlight:

1. User Recommendations - Once you login to your account you are immediately taken to a page with ideas that we've tailored based on your account activity. Each recommendation gives you a simple way to bring more customers to your business.

2. Improved user experience - Controlling your listing is now even easier. Note the new side-bar navigation and new buttons that run across the top of the screen. The buttons make it more obvious how each service and feature of MerchantCircle can help you gain more customers.

3. New Dashboard - Your dashboard now contains every vital statistic you need to evaluate your campaigns on MerchantCircle. View all the important details, including how your latest newsletter is performing, what kind of attention your listing is getting and which businesses are the highest ranking in your community.

4. New Coupons - We've totally revamped our coupon wizard to include brand new templates to help your offers stand out and have also included options for you to distribute them on community and business bulletin boards for even more exposure.

Have a look and give us your feedback. Every month we roll out something new and exciting, and your ideas are our prime inspiration.

Best Regards,

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Establishing a web presence....Not as difficult as you think

With all of the talk about local search vs. Yellow Pages lately, and the rise of local information found online, many small business owners have begun to question the effectiveness of purchasing Yellow Pages ads. And rightly so!

Once seen as the "go to" place for local businesses, the Yellow Pages' popularity has dropped with the emergence of alternatives to the expensive, cumbersomely thick book.
Why sift through wordy, sleepy ads in the Yellow Pages when there are more interactive alternatives out there? Capture your customers' attention by following "the more senses stimulated the better."

Most people are more intrigued when viewing a merchant as a 3-dimensional, breathing entity (like an online business listing) instead of a one-dimensional static box, like an ad in the Yellow Pages. Also, many customers feel that websites lend more credibility and personable qualities to a business. Sounds like a piece-of-cake decision, right? To those who grew up with the Internet, yes, but some may find the print-to-virtual transition a little more intimidating, particularly those not as familiar with the Internet.

MerchantCircle helps alleviate this very real fear by giving you simple, easy to use tools to create your business listing. As you need not learn any coding or technical terms, you may better use your time to concentrate on highlighting your business' attributes - like how your cafe has Fair Trade /Shade Grown coffee or how affordable your salon's prices are.

We've also built a few sample fictional websites to show how our features can better serve you. Remember Central Perk from Friends? Check out their business profile and snazzy image. Taking a moment to upload images and describe your business makes a world of difference when trying to stand out from other merchants (not to mention it's easy and free).

We've also made more traditional promotional tools easier, such as newsletters, profiles, and coupons. In addition, we've brought you blogs, a more current method to keep your customers informed on a regular basis. Businesses can use blogs for anything from updating customers on recent changes in the store to showcasing new and upcoming products. It's an informal, personal way to exchange ideas or provide information while having fun doing it! You can also be as creative as you want, such as uploading images to accentuate your news, like this blog from Gina's Beauty Shop.

More than anything, MerchantCircle wants to show you that you can create your own ad (with a little help from our Wizard) without spending excess amounts of money on annual contracts with the Yellow Pages. In fact, Central Perk and Gina's Beauty Shop (along with other businesses we'll soon introduce) were built using the standard free membership level at the "Circle". So, with all of this in mind, welcome to a great place to call home....and happy business listing-building!


Friday, August 25, 2006

Harboring Small Businesses

We celebrate unique businesses everywhere, so I really enjoyed an article I recently stumbled upon about just such a business in Halibut Cove, Alaska. Nardelli's Espresso Bar, having opened four years ago, serves this small, roadless community via a floating dock and cabin. A welcome sign marked "Espresso" rests in a skiff afloat near Nardelli's coffee shop cabin, inviting boating and kayaking passersby to drop in for a snack and a chat. What's more, patrons need not leave their boats, thanks to Nardelii's inventive "float-side" service.

Success appears to be due to Nardelli's winning combination: their yummy snacks are always paired with Nardelli's patron-first approach. The Bar's motto? "Everyone gets treated like a million dollars." This policy, no longer honored by most businesses, boosts Nardelli's above and beyond major chain coffee shops. It seems that Nardelli's has achieved what most small businesses strive for, being an integral part of the town. In fact, Jim Nardelli says, "Everyone is really supportive and I'd be afraid to close...It's really become a part of the community".MerchantCircle applauds Jim Nardelli's success, and we hope that his story inspires others to put service and originality first. We think they are two critical elements to keeping small American businesses vital in their communities. In the ever-busy, expanding world of corporate America, it's refreshing to visit local businesses like Nardelli's Espresso Bar, to shop, relax, and enjoy. (And I've got to get out there to sample Nardelli's homemade root beer plus a hot dog with the works - chili, cheese, caramelized onions, relish.)

Hmmmm, all this success and no yellow pages ad.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

To Yellow Page or not to Yellow Page...

This seems to be a question keeping many small business owners up late, busily debating pros and cons and crunching the numbers. Of course, the larger the ad, the more budget required... leaving smaller businesses at a further disadvantage versus the giant stores who distract customers with a full-page, (yet still two-dimensional and rather homogenous) Yellow Pages ad.

In an article, Dr. Lynella Grant, author of Yellow Page Smarts, cites research by The Kelsey Group in March 2005, which found that "70% of U.S. households now use the internet as an information source when shopping locally for products and services."

The same Kelsey Group study also found that individuals felt that search engines are a "better source of purchasing information than Yellow Pages, newspapers and magazines."

Dr. Grant also points out that most computer-savvy customers, a large and ever-growing segment of the population, know that the most efficient way to find information on businesses is through search engines.

Unfortunately, if you are a small business owner (even if you have a website of your own) you will more than likely not be listed on search engines and remain unseen. If customers can't find you, no matter how great your products are or how friendly your store is, you stand to lose both first time and repeat business.

This unhappy scenario confronts most smaller businesses today: how do you get the word out when the Yellow Pages are over-priced and ineffective, and it's awfully hard to pursue search engine traffic on your own?

MerchantCircle has attacked this problem for you - we offer increased visibility on Google and Yahoo and, unlike the Yellow Pages, provide you with the tools needed to build your own business listing. This means you, as a merchant, are in control of what your potential customers learn about your business. You upload the pictures and you come up with your business description, coupons, blogs, and newsletters.

In addition, because most people rely on their friends' and family's opinions over a random ad floating on the Internet or hidden in the sea of Yellow Pages, MerchantCircle offers consumer ratings, merchant endorsements and your business network to build the bridge necessary to connect you to loyal, lifelong customers, all for free. Try to accomplish any of that by advertising in the Yellow Pages!


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Coupons Coupons Coupons

I just ran across a little snippet of information I think our community could benefit from. Apparently, this back to school year, 58% of parents said they would use online coupons for in - store purchases. It appears that the convenience of shopping from home or the office makes it their top reason for doing so.

Well, this definitely makes sense to me. I know that I often find that there are never enough hours in a day and I welcome any which way I can buy some time. Convenience is always the key.

So for all our merchants, this back to school season you might want to update your offers and deals to benefit from this prime time shopping season.

On a similar note, it was released today that Google and Valpak have teamed up to offer online coupons through Google Maps. This is a pretty interesting move and not at all unexpected since local search is growing so rapidly.

Here at MerchantCircle, a merchant's coupons, blogs, and ads are all picked up by the major search engines. Check out some of our top merchants showing consistently on Google.

Pretty amazing stuff and when it comes to coupons alone, it's pretty awesome what some of our merchants are doing.

Check out some of our more popular areas already filled with the deals and special offers of our MerchantCircle merchants.

Minneapolis, MN.
Phoenix, AZ.
Las Vegas, NV.
Portland, OR.
Orlando, FL.
Chicago, IL.
Cleveland, OH.
Denver, CO.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Where your Yellow Page advertising dollars are going...

On the way to work one of our engineers saw a pretty funny sight. It's so funny I thought I'd share it with the rest of the community.

This has to be over 500 yellow pages someone wanted to use for a practical joke. Pretty amazing and actually not all that surprising considering they're invaluable and lying around most places. Just think, this is where your yellow page advertising dollars are going...

Anyway, we're always on the look out for great pictures of the yellow pages like the ones above. So if you ever run across a new and interesting way the yellow pages are being used send us a picture. We'll reward the best ones each week with a discount on a purchase of our premium packages.

Look forward to the submissions!


Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Stand out merchant

Our merchants are continuing to do great things on MerchantCircle. One especially has caught my eye this morning. Ackley's Rock & Stamps out of Colorado Springs, CO. is doing some really remarkable stuff.

Helena (store owner) has developed quite a relationship with her customers on the 'Circle'. Check out the warm reviews and her quick responses that show her customers that she cares. Another great thing Helena is doing well is newsletters. She's uploaded her contacts and is keeping her customers up to date on information, promotions, and offers. Excellent stuff! Helena is really doing what it takes to establish her business online which in turn is driving more customers through her door.

I'm sure there are plenty of other merchants out there doing similar things and I want to hear from them. So, if you have a great story about MerchantCircle and would like to share let us know.


Thursday, August 3, 2006

New Features Alert

We're on a constant quest to improve MerchantCircle for our members, and we're proud to announce the newest release of We've strived to simplify and strengthen our services while fulfilling requests made by our fabulous members. Here are a few highlights from today's push:

1. The Dashboard is totally redesigned, incorporating a new and improved menu system to make it easier and more intuitive to control your listing from one central spot. Login now and take it for a test drive!

2. Lights, camera, action! MerchantCircle now allows you to post videos on your business listing. Film a commercial, turn a video camera on a satisfied customer, or add footage on a topic related to your business. Check out the MerchantCircle listing in Los Altos, CA for an example.

3. Grow your Network. The new "Add your Address Book" button, located on the main dashboard and on "Invite Your Neighbors," lets you upload all of your email contacts in a matter of moments. Then it's a piece of cake to invite your friends and colleagues to join you on the 'Circle'!

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the new features, or requests for future improvements. Leave us a comment or send your remarks to


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ad Campaigns 101 - Getting the most out of online advertising

With so many of our merchants creating advertisements on Google & Yahoo; I thought I'd share some quick tips on getting the most out of creating a great campaign.

1) Include a keyword in your Headline title. A keyword consists of a word that describes your advertisement, business, or offer, and is used by search engines to deliver pertinent results to customers searching for related topics. For example, if you run a bakery that specializes in pies, related keywords could be applepies, pies, coconutpies, and yummypies. MarketingSherpa, a market research organization that runs extensive studies on maximinzing online marketing says, by including one of your keywords in the headline of your ad; it has the single greatest impact on generating returns.

2) Highlight your core differentiator; For example, if you're the low priced leader, include that infomation in the body of your ad.

3) Creative copy: test titillating phrases in your ad body or headline. One recent example came from an ad campaign for stock management software. The company ran multiple online ads with different headlines, varying between sensational and informational. They found that the headline "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight" resulted in a 15% jump in click throughs over any other ad.

4) Include common misspellings, use as many and the most relevant keywords you can think of for your campaigns, and exclude keywords not directly pertaining to your offer. Customers want to find relevant results and it's a rare person who runs their Google searches through a spell check first.

5) Include the most efficient url from your ad. For example, if you are promoting an item on sale, link directly to that item's page on your website. If you have a sophisticated website, you many even be able to generate a link that sends customers directly to your checkout page, with the item already in their shopping cart. Simplifying the purchase process for your customers will increase the chance of closing a sale.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

New Exemplary Merchants

Things are continuing to move at incredible speeds around here; namely our merchant growth and so I think it's high time again to showcase some of our latest exemplary merchants to join the 'Circle'!

Let's all welcome them to the community! And, if your in their area and or decide to make a purchase, make sure you let them know you found them on MerchantCircle.

1. For Rock and Stamp collectors check out Ackley's Rocks and Stamps of Colorado Springs, CO.

2. Although not a traditional merchant, but definitely a vital contributor to their community. We welcome Jamestown Volunteer Fire Department of Jamestown, CO.

3. Here to join our fastest growing group and to provide their Real Estate services we greet Marilyn Messenger & William Raveis Real Estate of Sudbury, MA.

4. Looking for a full service painting company? Be sure to check out Empire Painting Company Inc. of Flint, MI.

5. In the San Antonio, TX. area and want a refreshing smoothie and or fruit snack? Well, stop by Fruitilicious for a great treat.

6. For all you pet lovers; pamper your pet at Sherry's Pampered Pet Parlor of Chester, SC.

Great stuff guys! We all look forward to your success at MerchantCircle.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Affiliate Pilot Program

Hello everyone,

We're looking for a few merchants who may be interested in participating in our pilot affiliation program. We will give participating members a unique affiliate code to place on their MerchantCircle listing and or other websites.

Each time someone uses that affiliate code to join MerchantCircle, the new member will get a discount on the purchase of any membership package and the referring member will earn a discount on future purchases of MerchantCircle services and perhaps additional prizes as we develop this system. If you'd like to participate, shoot us an email or leave a comment stating your interest. We'll let you know more about how to use the code to earn discounts for your friends and yourself.

I lood foward to hearing from you!


Monday, July 17, 2006

Great Deals

I love what merchants are doing on the 'Circle'! Today, as I was going through the deals offered by our members, I began to notice a lot of great bargains to take advantage of and so I thought I'd take some time to point out my favorites for all to see.

1. In the Brentwood, TN area and need some Hardwood Flooring services? Well check out what Heritage Hardwood Flooring has to offer!

2. Looking for some original jewelry? The ladies over at Veronica's Jewel Box of Tuscon, AZ are offering $10.00 off when you buy $75.00 or more worth of merchandise.

3. Need some residential or commercial wiring done? Well, if you're in the Atlanta, GA area you're in luck! Redd Infinity is offering $10.00 off your next wiring job.

4. Looking to improve your singing with a voice coach? Check out Kaye Vocal Studio in Sunnyvale, CA. She's offering an Initial Audition and Consultation for you to take advantage of.

5. In the Cordova, TX area and looking for a great fitness center? Check out the Cordova Wellness Center. Through August they are offering a FREE one week pass or 20% off any 1 year membership.

6. Shopping for some new clothes for the kids? Well, if you're near Marietta, GA check out the PolkaDot Kids! They are offering $5.00 off any $30.00 purchase.

7. And, for all our merchants on MerchantCircle, check out what Alice in Waterland is offering. Through August and only for MerchantCircle members she is offering 30% off on all bottleless water coolers! Pretty great deal and definitely a must in the office!

Great stuff everyone! Stay tuned for more from our community.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Yellow Pages: Fools Gold?

Recently ran into a great article on advertising in the Yellow Pages. It's an excellent read and I suggest anyone who's currently using them as part of their marketing program to take a look.

One bit that caught my eye the most was his little survey on "Where people are looking to find services?". According to his sample, people first seek out referrals, then local businesses they have seen before but have never been too, and then media channels.

Simply, people find value in what other people trust and have to say when looking for services.

I totally agree with this!

As the article states "Your ad, no matter how big, doesn't buy you a lot of trust." and in my opinion, frankly that's what the Yellow Pages will never be able to solve.

Another great little take away from this article is when he poses the question, "Do you actually measure your response rates from the Yellow Pages?"

Check out what he has to say, you'll definitely find it interesting.

"I have yet to come across a small business that effectively measures this. Many people take it for granted that it 'just works'. Ad pricing is different depending on category, and I don't have the exact figures handy, but to get a quarter page sized advertisement with a bit of colour, you're probably looking at around $7500 - $10 000(AU).
If we assume a 35% gross profit margin in your business, your advertisement is going to need to bring in $21,428 - $28,571 in annual sales just to pay for itself.
If your ad in the Yellow Pages is a major part of your annual marketing budget, spend 3-4 weeks to test its effectiveness. Find out how they discovered you, and write down how much they spend. You might be surprised. "

On that note, if anyone out there decides to monitor their Yellow Page results and wants to share the results with us let me know, I'd be really interested in knowing your findings. We could even post them on the blog for all to see.


Sunday, July 9, 2006

Quick Results and only the start.

Nola, of Redd Infinity in Atlanta, Georgia first came to me wondering how she can rank high in search engines and how to maximize her visibility on line. She was especially amazed at the results of one of our other merchants, Cambric of Los Altos that she decided to put her best foot forward and give the "Circle" a try.

And, only after 3 weeks of utilizing our tools and following the MerchantCircle way, Nola's business is now ranked first in Google when searching for her business name and has over 1,500 page views. Pretty quick results if you ask me and it's just the beginning wait till she starts with a premium package and begins advertising on the major ad networks.

Great stuff, Nola!

This gives me an idea, if anyone else out there has a great story to tell and or finds their MerchantCircle listing ranking high in Google, maybe even higher than their own personal website; let me know and I'll send you 400 Ad Dollars plus a featured spot on our blog.


Friday, July 7, 2006

Obvious Trends

As strong as the Yellow Pages business is today, the trend is obvious. All of this business is going online. We only need to look at examples from other industries. No use fighting or arguing about the trend.

Napster and Kazaa changed the music business.
BitTorrent and YouTube are stirring up the video industry.
Craigslist is shaking up the newspaper industry.

The Yellow Pages industry will be transformed as well.

And, it's not just going to be online directory lookups. It's going to be a different, richer -- better -- experience that's just as effective as thumbing through the yellow pages.

Yelp , Judy's Book, and MerchantCircle are leading the way.