Unprecedented times call for community solutions. In response to requests from the local Barrie business community for a main hub allowing them to sell their products and services online, the presenting partners of the Xcelerate Summit, Central Ontario’s annual premier business conference, issued a challenge for someone to create a virtual marketplace.
An impressive pool of applications was received, from which an independent panel of judges selected HeyLocal, an online marketplace focused on providing businesses a simple platform that connects and encourages local consumers to shop consciously and conveniently.
“Ensuring local businesses and startups have the opportunity to incorporate eCommerce into their sales strategy will enable them to reach a wider audience of shoppers and get their products noticed,” says Sara Bentham, Director, Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre (HBEC) at Georgian College. “HeyLocal will be the place to find a wide variety of goods and services and encourage spending within the Simcoe County region.”
HeyLocal was borne out of the mission to keep online spending local during the COVID-19 recovery period. They launched an eCommerce marketplace that helps businesses reach more customers while simultaneously helping more Canadians shop locally. There’s a low monthly app charge of $4.99 and HeyLocal has committed to waiving all fees for 2020 as part of an ongoing commitment to support small businesses.
“The HeyLocal model ensures that we’re actually giving to our local businesses rather than taking from them,” says Justin Frenette, co-founder of HeyLocal. “We have a solution that won’t just help Simcoe County, but all communities across Canada.” He adds that HeyLocal is built differently than most marketplaces: “It’s centred around keeping the customer relationship, purchase data and profits with the small business owners. With no hidden processing fees, checkout happens on the small business’ website so customers get to know the entrepreneurs behind the products and can discover their stories and other products.”
And HeyLocal isn’t just helping out Simcoe County businesses through this eCommerce marketplace, they will be giving back.
“Local businesses and entrepreneurs need us now more than ever,” says Scott Higgins, President of HIP Developments and HeyLocal’s other co-founder. “The people who run these businesses not only provide products, jobs, and services — they provide the heartbeat of our cities, the energy in downtown cores, and compassion for local charities and social causes. We must start shopping with convenience and with conscience; that means shopping locally.”
Scott adds that HIP Developments is committed to helping build the Barrie community, and they have been working for years with the local YMCA on their new downtown facility at Barrie Central. “I’m pleased to tie these two great initiatives together,” said Higgins. “We’ll be donating up to $15,000 to the Barrie YMCA fundraising campaign — $10 per local business that signs up to the Barrie HeyLocal movement.”
The implementation of the HeyLocal marketplace will fit seamlessly with the ShopHERE program recently announced by The City of Barrie and The Sandbox Centre’s partnership with Shopify.
Collectively, these three initiatives will support businesses in website creation, and implementing an eCommerce solution.
“Downtown Barrie businesses are open to all who prefer to shop in person,” says Kelly McKenna, Executive Director, Downtown Barrie BIA. “However, more than ever, consumers are seeking convenient and unique shopping experiences online. Downtown Barrie is happy to be a part of this online solution – providing shoppers a new way to shop at their favourite owner-operated downtown Barrie business.”
“HeyLocal’s virtual marketplace is an example of the innovative solutions that can emerge out of times of extreme challenge,” says Mayor Jeff Lehman. “On behalf of Barrie City Council, I congratulate everyone involved on their creativity and ingenuity in developing this virtual marketplace that will help more of our local businesses connect with their customers and fuel Barrie’s economic recovery.”
The presenting partners of Xcelerate Summit are the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre; Small Business Centre of Barrie, Simcoe County & Orillia; OfficeInc!; Simcoe County Young Professionals Association; The Sandbox Centre; the Barrie Chamber of Commerce; Grow Vantage; and Invest Barrie.
For more information about the virtual marketplace and how you can get involved, contact Sara Bentham.