Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Look Back and Beyond

As we begin to approach the one year anniversary since our launch, I can't help but take a look back at all we've accomplished and what's still in store. My co-founder, Wayne Yamamoto, and I started MerchantCircle with an idea that local merchants needed a venue on the web to reach out to customers and interact with one another. Almost 1 year and 120,000 merchants later, I can say with heartfelt conviction that it's truly been a joy to see our 'idea' and our merchants prosper.

From Healing Therapeutic Massage in Claremore, OK to Wedding Supplies Unlimited in Warwick, RI, our merchants are getting more than just hundreds and thousands of impressions to their MerchantCircle page - they're definitively getting new customers. From Kelvin A. Schroeder's August Jewelers in South Milwaukee, WI to Sims Plumbing Company inc in Des Moines, IA we're bringing new businesses to the web and giving those already with a web presence more tools to play with.

10 years ago, if you asked me to upload a picture onto the computer, I would have needed someone with a computer science degree to help me out. Today, thousands of dry cleaners and contractors are uploading pictures onto MerchantCircle without any help at all. The web began as a way of bringing the globe of information to every user. It's now bringing every user a way to connect to a globe of people, either thousands of miles away or right down the street.

Small businesses create about two thirds of all new American jobs. Not only do local merchants deserve to have the local internet brought to them, but they deserve to not be strong armed into paying thousands of dollars for a print listing in the Yellow Pages. Local merchants are the key to building vibrant local communities. That's why from main street in Los Angeles to main street in Fairhope, Alabama downtown rejuvenations and redevelopments can always be found centered around small businesses.

The future for small businesses on the web is now. At 120,000 merchants signed onto MerchantCircle, we know there's legitimacy in that statement. Merchants are signing on in our nation's biggest cities, but far more frequently in cities many of us have never heard of: Van Buren, AR, Cedar Lake, IN, Lutz, FL, Parker, SD, Mcdonough, GA, Priest River, ID, Atascadero, CA and I could go on.... We are going to bring the local internet to millions of merchants, because millions of merchants today, do not have a website of their own.

As a child growing up in Alabama I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my parents which I now pass onto my own two kids. The joy of this experience is a huge source of pride for me. As I read our MerchantCircle Forum, I gain a similar source of pride watching as merchants from California to North Carolina give tips to a merchant in Florida on coming up higher in search engine results or merchants offering each other tips on blogging.

The internet is fundamentally changing how local businesses operate. Consumers can now express themselves on the web to a legion of viewers. Venues to vent about businesses continue to increase. We realized the mounting concern for merchants to keep track of every place their business shows up and what people are saying about them. That's why we introduced a feature that scours the web for all content on a business so that a business owner can take proactive steps in either changing their business practices or moderating their online reputation.

We're not done evolving because we realize the needs of a business owner are not getting any easier. Many merchants are beginning to get themselves out in a number of different forums on the web. They're creating profiles on Myspace and even Facebook, both outstanding services to network and engage, and we want to make sure their personality on the web can be found on their MerchantCircle page. We're including a section where merchants can list and link their entire web presence for a customer to see.

Web companies like Craigslist, InsiderPages, StepUp/Intuit, and Topix have set the stage for future development and innovation in the local internet space. Craigslist was one of the first websites that gave people from all walks of life a voice on the web and an easy-to-use experience that influenced a generation of potential entrepreneurs. Insider Pages taught us the relevance of finding local businesses using the wisdom of friends and neighbors. StepUp and Intuit have been making life easier for business owners to manage their store online and off. While Topix is inspiring engaging and meaningful discussion on news and events that local people have made relevant. It's exciting to be a part of the local space these days.

We share a passion for local that we believe will get us to 3 million merchants in just a few years. We want to make sure we can always deliver 5 things to our merchant base:

- A voice for them on the local web
- The ability to manage their online reputation
- Simple and effective ways to tap into the value of web advertising
- A permanent presence on the web
- The ability to engage with new and current customers online

We've been fortunate in the fact we have a small cohesive team at MerchantCircle. Everyone in the office chooses to be here, not because they need the money or couldn't find another job, but because they want to be here and believe in what we're doing. My Co-founder and I, wrote our first blog post about MerchantCircle before we launched in November of 2005. You can read it here. Not much has changed, besides the fact that the idea turned into a reality.

So as I look back, I also look forward - A vision is only so grand before something must be done about it.

Ben T. Smith, IV
Chairman and Co-founder, MerchantCircle


  1. Strong-armed into buying a print Yellow Pages ad?? I think you are missing some key facts. US adults referenced those print Yellow Pages over 15 billion times last year. 90% of all adults reference them at least once a year, 75% in a typical month, and 50+% on average month. How about on average 1.4X each week? And let’s remember that not everyone has Internet access to reference those websites you are talking about.

    There is no other directional media that can provide buyers the information they need when they need it about local businesses than the print Yellow Pages. It is truly the original local search engine….

    But if you insist, that same Yellow Pages sales rep also has a complete portfolio of local search and Internet based products that they can help you with.

  2. I am sure the Yellow Pages will continue to be around extorting value from local merchants for years to come. But in the meantime, the local internet offers a better value, more tranparency, more control, and clear pay for performance...

    Of course, what do I know. Mr. Gates is betting even the internet will not win, but the voice web....

    "When this happens, it should have implications in the local advertising market, Bradford observed. After that, the big change will come to the yellow page market. Gates explained to the audience:

    Well, the Yellow Pages are going to be used less and less. We should be able, when you go to the service that's going to take our technology and the Tellme technology that we acquired, when you say something like plumber, the presentation you'll get will be far better than what you get in the Yellow Pages. After all, we know your location, and so we can cluster around that. We can take the information and show you the names, and then you can expand the information easily. So, yes, I think that these things always take time, but Yellow Page usage amongst people in their, say, below 50, will drop to zero, near zero over the next five years."

  3. As a local business on MerchantCircle I would have to rank MerchantCircle as THE BEST advertising venue for the local merchant Sorry Ken C but nobody I know even picks up a yellow page book anymore, unless you're like maybe 90 years old lol. Every Yellow page sales rep I have ever dealt with,has over valued their product. They outright lie just to try to make a sale. MerchantCircle on the other hand gets me RESULTS. Thanks Ben, for leveling the playing field.