Beyond Main, a co-operative small business and community technology startup, teams with Main Street America and GoDaddy to develop a tool to help small businesses find the right software to fuel their future
Founder, Beyond Main
October 10, 2021
Let’s go back to pre-pandemic times, just for a moment. It was September of 2015, I was visiting a small business owner in downtown Somerville, NJ. This was a skilled operator who owned two other successful boutiques within the state. Somerville was her newest retail location. It was that special time of year where holiday goods were being unboxed, marketing was planned, and the hustle and bustle of the season would soon begin. It’s an exciting (and terrifying) time for business owners as the bills begin to mount.
As we talked, I could sense frustration and confusion in her voice. When I asked what was troubling her, she began to describe the challenges of navigating today’s savvy consumer. “Customers visit us, complement our merchandising, price points, and vendors. They consistently praise our service, enjoy spending time in our shop and take photos, yet they continue to leave us without making a purchase.” She went on to add, “We have invested in automating our operations, implemented a generous loyalty rewards program, we host a number of events, and still, sales continue to decline?” She sounded puzzled and in need of new solutions. The existing retail playbook was not yielding positive results any longer.
Her confession was not out of the ordinary, it had become the record continuously playing as I toured the country and talked with business owners along the way. We didn’t have a name for it at the time, but the convenience economy was taking hold. The consumer purchasing process had shifted, it now began on our connected devices, and to be blunt, small businesses were being sidestepped on this new customer journey.
As a consultant to thousands of Main Street businesses, I too was at a loss to recommend a holistic solution that would address this universal challenge. Without the right infrastructure, how could small businesses be found and shopped as easily as Amazon? What would become of our communities and small business populations?
This was ultimately the inspiration for Beyond Main. Providing a vibrant online destination that could bridge the gap and allow for customers to discover and shop local conveniently online, all the while fueling our small business communities and neighborhoods. The stats from 2012 through 2019 were sobering: e-commerce continued to capture 2% of all spend year over year, and 85 percent of small and mid-size businesses in the United States did not have e-commerce capabilities. Retail purchases still reigned, but technology was fueling sales growth in the marketplace and mass retail sectors. Retailers who could invest in developing and implementing technology were winning.
Fast forward to 2020 where the pandemic was like gasoline on a fire that had been burning slowly for nearly a decade. Consumers quickly shifted purchasing online and were looking to support their local business community in new and convenient ways.
Main Street America (MSA), a non-profit that focuses on economic development and community revitalization programming studied how the pandemic is impacting our entrepreneurial ecosystems and our communities at large. MSA’s survey of nearly 6,000 small business owners in the spring of 2020 revealed that nearly 67 percent had no e-commerce component to their business. Of the one-third that did have e-commerce sales, all indicated that it made up less than 25 percent of their sales volume. Extrapolated out, of the nearly 2.6 million retail businesses with less than 20 employees, more than 1.7 million of them are in need of an e-commerce sales channel in order to survive, during and post-COVID. When asked about technical assistance needs, survey participants identified e-commerce assistance as a top priority!
Backed by GoDaddy and armed with this research and insight, MSA reached out to Beyond Main to assist in the development and creation of Main Street Online, a new tool to help businesses grow and strengthen their online and e-commerce capabilities. Supported by GoDaddy, the tool assesses the unique needs of individual small businesses through a series of questions and offers customized guidance for implementing software solutions to improve their digital presence.
“The marketplace for e-commerce solutions is crowded and confusing to navigate,” said Matthew Wagner, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer at Main Street America. “Since small businesses are often limited by time and resources, we wanted to develop a tool to help them easily navigate the process of strengthening their online presence as it will be essential to ensure a strong business model moving forward.”
Over 800+ hours of development, research, and survey construction work went into creating a holistic consultative online tool. It reviews and compares nearly 200 small business software tools across 30 functional areas. The assessment analyzes the business’s sector, stage, capabilities, capital, existing operations, and challenges to diagnose software that would best align with their needs. The tool was designed specifically for small businesses with no to limited technology automation, 20 or fewer employees, and focuses on the retail, service, and food and beverage sectors. After business owners complete the survey, they receive customized results on everything from POS systems, website platforms, and content creation software to help market their business.
“GoDaddy is on a mission to empower entrepreneurs everywhere by giving them the support and tools they need to succeed online,” added Stacy Cline, Senior Director, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at GoDaddy. “We’re thrilled to partner with Main Street America to launch a tool that provides small business owners a resource to navigate all the considerations of how to best bring their ideas online.”
Since launching in Spring of 2021, the Main Street Online tool has helped over 1,000 businesses receive consultative support to help them navigate the software services that will help them make the most impact for their business. Developed for both new and mature businesses, the tool is free, accessible to all small business owners, and takes less than 12 minutes to complete. Learn more at mainstreetonlinetool.org.
Kate Giovambattista is the founder of Beyond Main, an aggregated marketplace designed to support small businesses and local customers. Their mission is to help communities thrive by providing a more convenient and modern way to shop locally. For more information, visit beyondmain.com, or follow them @byndmain of Twitter and Instagram.