Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The American 'Shop Local' Campaign and the Effects of Wal-Mart on Local

Downtown areas across America are starting to see a disturbing trend. Signs like the ones below litter storefronts from major cities to middle America, from farming communities to oil towns, from the less affluent to the most affluent, few areas have been spared. These pictures were taken below in Los Altos, CA, located in the southern end of the San Francisco Peninsula. Los Altos has a median household income of $158,745 - which puts it third in the nation for affluent neighborhoods.

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There has also been an onslaught of "Sale" signs in store windows to draw in that prospective customer. Many of the deals range from '20% to 50%', 'Buy One, Get One Free', 'Lunch Specials', and 'Reward Cards'. It's a buyer's market and business owners are doing all they can to reel customers in. MerchantCircle has always offered an instant coupon building tool for merchants that can be easily printed out and redeemed from a merchant's listing, as well as city pages that allows you to track ALL the coupons in a local area.

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While Los Altos still has a number of strong, thriving businesses, and obvious prosperity, the number of merchants who are conserving their money has grown. That's why it's more important than ever to not only create coupons and email them to your most valuable merchants, but also to have ongoing sales and promotions (that can be created here) on your listing - whether it's a full weekend sale or a Happy Hour special.

Downtown Los Altos 009
The Los Altos Chamber of Commerce has started a 'Shop Local, Shop Los Altos' campaign to try and keep the dollars being spent in Los Altos. In a recent MSN Money article, Ventura, CA was considering approving a Wal-Mart SuperCenter being built (it will be voted on in November). The article lists a number of pros and cons from different authorities, with the pros being a windfall of about $350,000 to $500,000 in added sales tax revenue that first year, and an extra 150 to 450 jobs, not to mention the savings of up to $2,500 a year per family in reduced shopping costs. The cons listed as, local jobs lost of 1.4 to each job added, with reduced salary and benefits ($12.76 average to $10.83), also the ripple-effect loss of an estimated 77 U.S. manufacturing jobs from each Wal-Mart, which equates to more than 33,000 manufacturing jobs a year.

As we have more options to save money, whether through the web or by going to big box retailers, the question you should ask yourself is whether it is worth it to ourselves and the broader implications on the economy as a whole.

Here at MerchantCircle, we support 'local' and we support better local conditions. Small business owners created half of all new American jobs in the last decade. When you stifle entrepreneurship with only big box options, you've undercutted the foundation of what American dreams are made of.

Shop Local.

Community Relations

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My FOX Chicago's Cool Website of the Week

Fox Chicago LogoMerchantCircle was named FOX Chicago's Cool Website of the Week (7/22/09) by Emmy Award-Winning journalist Nancy Loo.

Nancy touts us as a "social network for communities & small businesses." Thanks for the shout out!

Community Relations

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Social Media Should I Join As a Business Owner?

The website, American Drycleaner, recently released a survey of social media usage among drycleaners. They found that 52% of their respondents used social media, while 48% did not. Of those who responded:

Social Media Use

- 76.9% used Facebook on behalf of their businesses
- 46.2% used LinkedIn
- 46.2% used Twitter
- 7.7% used MerchantCircle

There are also some other interesting stats in the article, but the Editor of American Drycleaner writes: the "survey presents a snapshot of readers' viewpoints at a particular moment, it should not be considered scientific."

Still, the results show there is a lot of growth for social media usage amongst our nation's local drycleaners and the local business owners that they represent. Click here to see the study results.

Community Relations

Friday, July 17, 2009

How To Turn More Visitors Into Buyers

Guest Blogger Series Part 5: Gail Gardner has been involved in the computer industry since the late 1970s, originally servicing hardware, and as a Project Manager for data processing centers, banks, and retailers.

Since 2003, she has worked exclusively in online marketing, specializing in optimizing blogs and ecommerce sites, pay per click advertising, and Local Search listings. You can find her at

By Gail Gardner

When you know how to evaluate what you offer your potential buyers through your efforts online, you can greatly increase your sales and profitability. These concepts apply to your activities here at Merchant Circle and in other communities and Social Networks, your blog, and your store.

You must have a very clear idea what you hope your visitors will do and then make it obvious to them too!

You know what your business does, but can those who visit you immediately tell? If they can't they will simply click away! The layout and design of your business site either increases your sales or reduces them. Make how to use your site obvious and focus on answering your visitors' questions and your sales will go up.

Here is an easy way to test. Print out your home page, hand it to random people, and ask them what the business on that page does. If they can't tell you by a quick look at the header of your site you have some work to do. The sooner you complete it the faster your sales will start improving.

First, develop a slogan that lets others know what your site is all about and what makes your business unique. This is often called a USP and belongs near your business name in your header on every page of your store, blog or Web site. With this short phrase you let potential buyers know why they have landed on your site and why they should stay.

To make a really strong first impression, seriously consider having a professionally designed logo developed. As we have all heard forever, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Logos are the best way to make your site memorable. Use a matching Avatar in your Social Networking profiles and on any sites that provide room for a photo. Think of these as reminders for your visitors to return.

Besides your logo, business name, and slogan, there are specific items that belong at the top of your Web site including links to important pages (about, contact, faqs, shipping info). Your checkout or shopping cart should be in the top right corner. This is where major sites such as Amazon position it and where your buyers will expect it to be.

Provide a search box near the top right of each page. If you have a store with many products, upgrading your search function is critical. If visitors can not find what they want they won't be able to buy it. Test yours by searching for very specific items by brand, name, and color. Only improved search functions handle this type of search well.

Now that your visitors know why they should buy from you and can easily find the products they are interested in, to increase your conversions – and conversions are far more important than more traffic – buyers must feel:

  1. They can trust you

  2. The product is exactly what they are seeking and worth the money

  3. All of their questions have been answered

Do everything you can to help them feel comfortable buying from you. Put a photo of your business on your about page. (Conversions go up when people visit that page just before checking out!)

Make sure you can be contacted. Provide phone numbers and an address on your site. Consider using services such as BuySafe, OnlineBBB, TrustGuard, ShopperScanned, SiteSafe, Authorize Net, or McAfee Secure.

Add testimonials to your site and links to reviews of your business and products. Reviews are how the public finds trustworthy businesses. Being an active member of Merchant Circle can increase the number of reviews you receive. A great way to start is by reviewing other businesses here.

Provide all the information you possibly can on each product. Consider using more than one image. Be sure your descriptions contain everything they need to know: size, color, material. The best advice on this I ever heard was from Marsha Collier, author of the eBay for Dummies book. She said to provide written descriptions so strong that you don't need photos and photos so clear that you don't need written descriptions. Although few sites today are that good it is a great target.

Unless you answer every question your visitors have they are not going to buy! Consider installing Live Chat and having someone available as much as possible. Volusion Live Chat offers an excellent free option. Being available to answer quick questions will greatly increase your conversion rate.

Once your site is converting well then you can focus on increasing traffic. Merchant Circle can assist you there too. Creating coupons gets your listing additional exposure. The Merchant Circle Blog function is easy to learn. (If you get stuck just ask us and we'll explain how it works.) Use it to learn to blog or if you already have another blog consider posting in your Merchant Circle blog to let your friends here know about new posts.

The tips above and the links provided to additional information can assist you in increasing your sales and profitability. Visit the GrowMap blog for additional information on the above concepts, for free ways to increase your traffic using Social Networking, blogging and incoming linking, or to ask any questions you may have on growing your business. You can also follow us at Twitter.

This marks the conclusion of our Guest Blogger Series. You can go back and read posts from Andrew Shotland, John Jantsch, Dane Carlson, and Professor Samuel Bornstein. That you to all our contributors!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Using Social Networks to Make Money

It’s always flattering when MerchantCircle members take to blogging about the success of their business using MerchantCircle, but the title of one member’s blog post caught our eye. On his personal blog and his MerchantCircle blog, Greg Clowminzer of IonWays Alkaline Water Ionizers in Carlsbad, CA wrote a blog post titled: How I Made Over $15K With a FREE Merchant Circle Business Profile. Greg not only wrote a blog post, he also posted a video testimonial on Youtube and embedded it in his blog.

“MerchantCircle has put thousands and thousands of dollars into my pocket,” says Greg. “I wanted to learn if there was a way on the Internet to actually create a sustainable business model. That’s when I stumbled upon MerchantCircle........"

Listen to Greg tell it in his own words on his blog, or through his Youtube link below:

Read more about Greg in our July Newsletter - out this week.

Community Relations

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Financial Ratios: The Early Warning Indicator of Business Health

Guest Blogger Series Part 4: For the past 30 years, Professor Bornstein has been a tenured Professor of Accounting and Taxation, and for the past 32 years a CPA and Consultant in public practice for Bornstein & Song, CPAs & Consultants.

The current economic downturn requires a careful understanding of where the business is, where it has been, and where it is going. Cost cutting measures may be required for business survival. There are financial tools that can help.

Just as people monitor their health with blood tests, electrocardiograms, blood pressure readings, and other measurements that provide early warning indicators of illness, businesses must establish financial health measurement mechanisms that monitor their survival, profit, and growth. Such mechanisms can predict and head off small business failure.

Knowledge and understanding of accounting and its analytical tools and techniques, such as financial ratios, can help business owners diagnose, identify, and cure financial weaknesses. Financial ratios transform accounting data into useful data for business decision making, and they can reveal more than just the bottom line. These ratios may tell more about the true health of a company than actual sales and profit figures that appear in financial statements.

Financial ratios can help determine which direction the business is going by measuring the following aspects of the business: (1) Liquidity ratios measure the ability to meet the cash flow needs as they arise; (2) Profitability ratios measure the overall performance and its efficiency in managing its assets, liabilities, and equity; (3) Activity ratios measure the liquidity of specific assets such as accounts receivable and inventory; (4) Leverage ratios measure the ability to meet its debt obligations and avoid bankruptcy. Businesses can compare their financial ratios to the averages in their industry. These comparisons can be vital to evaluating business performance.

Various publications and internet websites provide industry financial ratios: Annual Statement Studies published by Risk Management Association (RMA) provides ratios for over 500 different industries, while Financial Studies of the Small Business published by Financial Research Associates specializes in small to mid-sized businesses.

Financial ratios are extremely valuable analytical tools which can indicate areas of potential strength or weakness, however, their interpretation requires professional attention. The calculation and analysis of these ratios should be an integral part of the services provided by the business’s accountant.

Samuel D. Bornstein is a Professor of Accounting and Taxation, at Kean University School of Business, Union, NJ., and managing partner of Bornstein & Song, CPAs & Consultants in Oakhurst, NJ. Email:

Thanks Professor! Be sure to check back in for Part 5: GrowMap's Gail Gardner!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Using MerchantCircle for City Management and Interaction

City Manager

The Rogers City, MI City Manager, Mark Slown, recently highlighted reviews his city received on their MerchantCircle page. Mr. Slown wrote on his City Manager's Blog:

Marina Gets Great Comments in MerchantCircle

Below are positive comments about Rogers City found in MerchantCircle:

Dear City of Rogers City Boat Harbor,


Great Harbor with Friendly Staff:
I was on my way up to Mackinaw Island with my family and planned on stopping at Presque Isle. Some googling of that area made me realize there was nothing to do in that city. So I.....

Read the rest of the blog post here.

With MerchantCircle's Talk To Me feature and Reviews - both of which allow responses and interactions - merchants, and even city leaders can engage with their community in real time. Deals and Coupons built on MerchantCircle listings can even be used to tout city fairs, festivals, and farmer's markets.

The possibilities are endless. No matter how you're using MerchantCircle or who is using MerchantCircle - you will always have a free tool to engage your community.

Community Relations

P.S. Check out the Rogers City MerchantCircle listing here.