New challenges have arisen for small to medium-sized businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supporting local businesses has become more difficult now that consumers turn to quicker one-stop shopping in larger chains.
Erin Martin, along with two colleagues, identified this as a problem they could solve.
Their solution was HeyLocal, an online marketplace pioneered in Waterloo.
The aim was to provide consumers a one-stop shopping experience from their favourite small businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo.
According to Martin, HeyLocal was designed to support local small and medium-sized businesses by providing convenience, thus bringing more business activities in the local community.
“We really don’t stand on our own two feet in the online space, we heavily rely on retail giants, and that’s just not what Canada is made up of. We are 1.1 million plus small businesses,” Martin said
“If we don’t figure out how to transition to online quite quickly, we’re going to have a bigger problem than what we are facing at the moment.”
They currently have almost 70 different merchants on the site, ranging from local farmers to clothing and accessories. Onboarding new merchants is made easier with their integration feature where businesses can pull their products from their Shopify page to the HeyLocal site.
Because HeyLocal is an initiative aimed at helping the local community, they do not take commission from the merchants, and all the money paid by the consumer is directly received by the seller.
“[It’s] a completely boot-strapped product at the moment,” Martin said, referring to her team of three co-founders, who each have significant contributions towards the site.
However, as the community recovers from the pandemic, HeyLocal aspires to grow as a site. This includes their plan of charging a $4.99 fee to the merchants, in order to fund new features on the site and grow their team.
Their site, heylocal.ca, allows users to choose an area where they want to shop, along with the radius in which the stores are located.
The shops on the site also specify the types of delivery service they provide, such as local, same or next day deliveries, as well as curbside pick up.
Martin provides ease for the customers since it cuts down on delivery time, compared to larger e-commerce which can take up to one to two weeks to arrive. Martin said their initiative not only benefits the local economy, but is, overall, more environment friendly.
“You can ship something from the local community, rather than ship something all the way across the nation,” Martin said, “We are really thinking of our ecological footprint and being sustainable.”
As of now, HeyLocal does not have any UW alumni on their team, but they are open to anyone interested in joining the initiative, since they are determined to grow as a platform even after the COVID-19 pandemic.