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