New Orleanians have shown a readiness to support anything local, whether it’s accolades, businesses, food, or products. That’s one reason why New Orleans has been named the number #1 shopping destination by Travel and Leisure. The city has some of the best local and specialty shops in the country, as well as great shopping areas around town.
However, even I can admit that the daily ambush of e-mails from Gilt Groupe or Ideeli can be enticing and sometimes a little too convenient to pass up. As the day wears on and I am downing my several cups of coffee and spending hours staring at my computer screen, those discounted Missoni shoes and La Mer products arriving in my inbox definitely are welcome. I mean, who doesn’t want a mid-afternoon online sample sale to brighten the day?
So … what if there were an online destination that could combine the flash-sale model of sites like Gilt Groupe with a focus on supporting local independent businesses?
Glad you asked: There is, and it was founded by two of our very own New Orleans entrepreneurs.
New Orleans-based ShopLocalStyle.com was founded by long-time friends Sarah Winston and Sarah Ott, who realized that wooing today’s busy, price-conscious consumer had become one more challenge for small boutique owners in a recession economy. The website solves that problem by helping local shops gain exposure to prospective online customers using an exclusive e-commerce sample sale formula. Members receive daily invites to the week’s online sales, and, in turn, discover some new boutiques and products around town.
ShopLocalStyle also serves as a small marketing team for its partner retailers, by featuring them long-term on the site with photos, descriptions, and contact information to help them connect with prospective customers through whatever social media platforms they support. Boutiques on the site include Snap, Jean Therapy, Style Lab, Angelique, and Karla Katz Antiques, among other local businesses.
The concept also targets a very specific consumer, one who wants to support the local economy and retailers, but also is looking for deals and convenience. ShopLocalStyle targets that customer, giving shoppers the opportunity to shape the local economy, preserve local culture and style, and help smaller boutiques prosper.
“We want to redefine what is local,” said Winston. “Supporting the independent stores preserves the culture and style of our city, and helps the small businesses remain relevant.”
Winston, a veteran boutique owner of 12 years, felt the effects of the recession on her own boutique. However, it wasn’t until Ott walked in one day and told her about three pairs of designer shoes she had just purchased online that Winston became truly frustrated with the bad economy and changing shopping trends. It was at that moment that the two women had an epiphany, and started ShopLocalStyle.
The business model is twofold, focusing on the needs of both business owners and shoppers. Winston has a specific kinship to other independent shop owners like herself, while Ott represents the modern consumer in the equation.
“I felt compelled to start ShopLocalStyle for my love of shopping and my city,” said Ott. “Even though I was busy running my own business from home and raising three children, I always found time to shop. However, it wasn’t in my city, but online.”
Because the online boutiques are located in New Orleans, ShopLocalStyle members can not only browse virtually, but also visit the storefronts as well. The owner of Friend, a new menswear store on Magazine Street, overheard customers mention they had seen the shop featured at ShopLocalStyle.com. Friend partnered with SLS in an attempt to direct traffic into the new brick and mortar store. The exposure has helped drive sales and brought in new customers.
While the focus is “local,” ShopLocalStyle plans to expand its prototype on the national level, helping people across the country discover other small retailers in other cities.
“We are not trying to teach people the importance of shopping local,” explained Winston. “We are offering great products at great prices to people who already have the drive and commitment to shopping locally.”