YOUNG MONEY: What is A List Local?
STEVE RAYNER: Alistlocal.com is an online directory connecting consumers with local businesses by way of exclusive member savings, customized video commercials, user ratings and reviews and hybrid targeted marketing.
YM: What challenges does A Local address?
SR: Well, when I started the company, I did it based on my personal frustration with the larger more mainstream online directories and local search companies. It seems that they’re all stuck in the web 1.0 model of strictly being focused on generic traffic generation, page views and ad sales. First of all, as a consumer the standard data on these sites didn’t help me and I also realized that these companies were so big that they were having a very hard time managing the data. Many times I tried calling local businesses from an online listing and found out that they were not in business any longer. Also, how was having these very standard and static text listings helping the small business owner? What made them stand out? What drove new customers to their locations? What incentive was a consumer given to try a new business for the first time? There was no real answer to these questions.
For many years sales people in the online directory and local search industries have been “selling” the small business owner, and thriving, on the fear of “you must be online”, and “if you’re not online you’re dead”. Well, while being online is one smart marketing strategy, I realized that a really high percentage of online directories really weren’t delivering for their clients, but WERE adding content to their sites to provide more ad locations. For years, this has worked for them, but they’ve become so large and their business methods are too embedded that it’s very difficult for them to maneuver to a newer and smarter way of doing business and more importantly connecting consumers to local businesses. In times like these, with online ad sales plummeting, I’m sure that these companies are “spinning their wheels” to find a better option or new and effective model. The small business owners are revolting and not signing long-term contracts anymore. They’ve also become smarter and are holding all marketing and advertising options accountable for their results and promises during the sales cycle.
For the consumer there really is no real reason or incentive to try a new business. The majority of people go online to get a phone number or a map to a place that they have already decided on. With our incentives and savings we really believe we empower the consumer while expanding their options.
Web clutter is confusing and is another way to realize that the motives of the larger and older online directories are to provide as much content as possible so ads can be displayed and hopefully clicked on. Because our model is not ad-based web clutter is not an issue for us. We want the most relevant and clean content to make the user experience that much more effective and ensure future site visits.
Emotional connection is something that the web still hasn’t “cracked” yet. But, we’ve realized that allowing a small business owner tape his own commercial makes them recognizable to the consumer upon their visit. We call it “celebritization, customization and localization”. This feeling translates into loyalty, pending the product and/or services meet the consumer’s liking.
So, Alistlocal.com is well positioned to use the newest and most effective tools and concepts to help businesses attract new customers and keep them while creating a large network of consumers and providing them incentives to stay loyal to our brand and the business listings within our site.
YM: How is A List Local different?
SR: Web 1.0 and 2.0 were really good starting points fro transacting online and awareness, but I truly believe that the web 3.0 model is going to be accountability and responsibility to deliver to the consumer and businesses. So, knowing that video is one of the hottest and most logical tools online, I really wanted to allow the small business owner to rely on himself to sell services to consumers and not simplistic text listings. Offering a free online commercial to small business owners has really accomplished this and created quite a buzz in the local neighborhoods. Providing the option of video where it once did not exist has given the business owner a better appreciation for online marketing and a confidence that they will stand out and be able to convey their own message in their own words- literally.
Our core strength and draw is the free member savings card we offer to attract consumers and the savings that goes along with being a member. Every business listing on our site fully understands that they are part of a consumer savings network and that online videos and member discounts are required to stay listed. We know, especially now, that 91% of all consumers say that incentives really drive their buying decisions. Also, 83% of all consumers who search online prefer to do business within 10 miles of their homes.
Although coupons have always been popular we feel, and based on the feedback, that consumers are more confident and less embarrassed to carry a very cool credit card style membership card and to flash it during their transactions. It has a sexy VIP feel to it. Also, our promotions are non-expiring and can be used multiple times, unlike coupons. See, coupons depend on a “one-call-close”. They were used to give the customer a good experience once and gain their loyalty right away. Times have changed. A business is only as good as the last experience and the incentives it has taken to get the consumer in the door.
We know if we support both the consumer and the local business that our brand will develop naturally with a very positive association tagged on to it.
In these challenging times we have a saying, “You don’t have to stop what you do. But you can be smarter in doing it!”
YM: How did you get funding?
SR: We are 100% self-funded at this point. Besides personal savings, some close personal friends and family members- most notably my mother Janet Rayner- have really gotten excited for this idea and realized that they would become members themselves when given the opportunity. So, they’ve become “early-stage” investors and seem to be pretty happy about it. We do project revenue very soon, but the majority of the funding has come from my personal savings and reminds me everyday that I have a vested interest in this concept being successful.
YM: Any advice about starting a company?
SR: The best advice I could give anyone starting a business is to fully understand the challenges that your idea will be solving. Most people have a lot of great ideas, but they don’t really solve any problems, which makes it a very tough and non-emotional sell. Then become an expert on the industry that you’ll be entering. Subscribe to all the industry-related newsletters and magazines, sign-up for Google industry alerts, go to relevant networking events and study the competition. To talk intelligently to customers, consumers, partners, VC’s or the media you must become an expert!
Be passionate! Go to bed late and wake up early without noticing. Only focus on what you want to happen and don’t given any energy or thoughts to negativity and what you don’t want to happen.
Belief is good, but…KNOW you will succeed!
YM: Any marketing tips?
SR: I have found a lot of great success incorporating very targeted marketing concepts online and off. We call this our “hybrid” marketing strategy. Early on, do not focus on the brand. Be more focused on developing your concept and bringing it to as many people as possible as cost effectively as possible and if your idea is what you believe it is then the brand will develop itself. Also, don’t do what everyone else is doing. Be creative and have fun. Go where your customer is and where they’re going, not where they’ve been and every other marketer is. I’m also a big fan of social media, but not in a vague way. This relatively new marketing channel should be used with precision rather than the typical “free” ways. Your customer is online, but so are your competitors. So, being smarter always gives you the edge.
YM: What concrete advice do you have to offer?
SR: Before you share your idea with the world, protect it. If you have a full understanding of your idea and concept, then it may make financial sense to use an online patent company (legalzoom.com) to save money. But, if money is not an issue using then using an actual law firm who specializes in intellectual property (Perkins Coie) would be very smart. Make sure you incorporate to protect you and your family while receiving certain tax advantages. If you want to do it yourself simply contact the Secretary of State’s office in your state and ask for the appropriate forms. It’s time consuming, but cost effective. To save time I use an online company (bizfilings.com) and the costs are very reasonable. Don’t forget to register all domain names regarding your business so a competitor can’t.
YM: What’s the secret to your success?
SR: I get asked this a lot and I always seem to come up with the same answer, poverty and passion. I had a very humble start to my life, but watching the work ethic of my mother always made me want to reach for more. So, I developed this passion to everything I do. If it’s worth doing it has to be worth being passionate about. My experiences have programmed me to believe that passion equals success, in anything!
YM: Would Alistlocal.com be considered a “disruptor”?
SR: In many ways I guess you could consider it one. Our goal was to take the deficiencies of an industry and create new opportunities for consumers and business owners. As we kept developing the concept we’re realizing that this idea could re-define the online directory industry in ways that were not expected early on. I believe that people want results. Period. Our model is to only deliver results and to use video and savings to increase the probability of success. I would like to think that will, in some ways, disrupt “business as usual” and raise the bar on results which would benefit everyone.
YM: What direction is Alistlocal.com going?
SR: We’re really excited about our regional success so far and would like to offer this nationwide. To scale through out the US will require funding. We are currently deciding on this direction.
A mobile component is soon to come that I think people will really enjoy. One piece is very “hush hush” right now because it’s patent pending. But, mobile will be a significant part of our upcoming strategies.
YM: Quotes from an A List Local Members:
"Alistlocal.com has been a savior to me and my family in these tough times. We love going out to dinner quite frequently. But, with the economy as uncertain as it is we had to cut back. Since Alistlocal.com started we use our savings card to stay loyal to all the businesses on the site and use it for more than just restaurants. Alistlocal.com was a life-saver for us!" Eliott Andersen- Clearwater, FL
"I would typically get a weekly massage, but lately the economy has made things tough for me. After 3 months without a massage I found Alistlocal.com through some friends of mine and have been getting my weekly massage again. The concept is loyalty. If we receive savings it seems that we maintain our original habits and being part of a network makes me feel as if we have some security or protection against what’s going on out there (referring to the economy)." Del Casoni- Tampa, FL