Let's say you run a store or business. I know, it's a stretch for a small-business blog reader. Anyway, things are going just fine overall but you have a couple of items you wish you could unload because your customers obviously aren't biting.
Until recently, your only options were eBay and Amazon, and maybe Etsy. And even though sites like Etsy are continually trying to improve their user experience, if you're a small-biz owner you don't really want to be nickel-and-dimed and leeched by the fees and time-suck that eBay and Amazon listings inevitably provide.
This is that infomercial moment where the weary housewife or sleepy husband moans: "There's gotta be a better way." In this case, there most certainly is. Lesley Tweedie found her inspiration in a moment just like this when an "oversized, expensive" bike helmet at her and her husband's shop, Roscoe Village Bikes, was haunting her shop like a safety-conscious-accessory ghost. She reduced the price. She put it out on the sidewalk sale. Finally she decided to launch Little Independent, which is a "Chicago-based online marketplace for sale items at independent retail stores."
It's pretty snazzy and since starting in 2010 has caught on at 72 stores in 17 states.
I gave Tweedie a call to find out more about how the service works, what her plans are for its future and how successful her bike shop has been on Little Independent. (Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, she did sell that helmet.)
Does Little Independent take a cut of deals like eBay and PayPal?
Lesley Tweedie: There are listing fees but it's a little more straightforward than eBay. We actually don't take a percentage of the sale. Part of the reason we did that is that sometimes a store owner might list something on Little Independent and then have someone come in and purchase it in the store. So, not all the sales are made through the site. That was one reason why I didn't really want to take a percentage of sales. Another reason is that the items that are being listed are already things that the retailer has put on their sale rack. If they have to again give a percentage to someone else it almost becomes not worth their while. But we do have listing fees, but since we're relatively new we have been giving away some listings just to have content on the site. So, we have sold some but -- it's kind of the chicken-and-egg-type thing where you have to grow the marketplace before you can really start adding value on those listings and making them more something that people are willing to come spend money on.
Is there an approval process? How do you assure no one is selling their excess plutonium or whatever on your site?
Lesley Tweedie: We do have criteria. A store owner would have to create an account and we have a criteria for you to be eligible on our site. It's in our FAQ:
1. My store operates out of a brick-and-mortar storefront with a street address and a telephone number. It is not based in a home, office, warehouse or vehicle.
2. The majority of my store’s sales are made locally in our store rather than online.
3. My store is privately owned. It is neither a franchise nor part of a national chain.
4. My store sells retail. We do not sell wholesale.
So, if a store owner feels that their store meets that criteria, they can register on the site, create their storefront, which takes about 10 minutes and there's no charge for that and then they automatically get three free listings. I don't know if you've ever created a listing on eBay.
I have, but it's been a while.
Lesley Tweedie: It can be kind of complex. I feel like there's lots of different options and you can pay more to have this many pictures or this font. For me it always felt like kind of a hassle. Now, the great thing is they have a huge audience, so depending on what you're selling sometimes it's definitely a great way to go. But we also wanted the listing process to be really turnkey, really fast. These are all business owners that are trying to help customers in their stores and don't necessarily want to be spending 25 minutes just creating the awesomest listing possible.
Have you noticed any commonalities in terms of what tends to get listed in each state? Like, what do stores in Illinois more often than not try to unload?
Lesley Tweedie: Our biggest category overall is fashion accessories. Mostly it's just the random things that people have where they're like, "Hmm. This isn't selling in my store. Let's see what happens when I put it on Little Independent."
Speaking of which, how many sales have you made personally from the bike shop through Little Independent?
Lesley Tweedie: I've probably listed approximately 20 different things. I've probably sold six or seven. Proportionally, most of the things I've listed have sold. I feel like this is just a tool that you can have in your toolbox. The more you use it, the more utilize the tools, the better it may be.
What goals for the future do you have for the service?
Lesley Tweedie: Yeah, that's a really good question. This is one of those things with all entrepreneurs. You're moving forward. I'm really happy with the amount of growth we've had in this first year. Last week I presented at a national conference, the American Independent Business Alliance, in Louisville. It was called Go Local Grow Local. The panel that I was on was called "Building Indie Alternatives To Amazon." That was a really great opportunity. I'm happy with the direction that it's going and I feel like more and more people are learning about it. The more stores that are on it, the more beneficial it can become.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.