Momentum’s Be Local will be closing their e-commerce site for network members later this year, citing improved e-commerce access and a need to refocus on helping local businesses scale their operations.
Philip Lozano, community enterprise coordinator for Momentum and manager for Be Local, said that the project that began during Covid-19 has been a successful one and that the majority of members have already transitioned to other e-commerce sites.
“Over the past couple years, we’ve actually helped just almost 100 vendors reach thousands of new customers, but we just realized now’s the time to shift our efforts,” Lozano said.
“Business is just done differently now ever since COVID and a lot of businesses who weren’t online before are definitely online in multiple places. So we just felt that this was no longer a place of huge urgency for us.”
Over the past three years, the number of active businesses on the platform has declined to a core of between 40 to 50, from the more than 450 member businesses at Be Local.
Be Local network members have also overwhelmingly switched to other e-commerce platforms, with more than 83 per cent of surveyed members in 2022 having developed their own e-commerce sites.
“We made the sad, but ultimately proud decision to wrap up our activities at the store. But it was a huge success, and we’re really happy that we did it.”
Sad, but not unexpected due to declining sales on Be Local shop
He said that the site was one of the first to launch during the pandemic, but that the goal was to never have any business rely on what was likely always going to be a temporary solution.
“It was actually a success for us when Devil’s Head Coffee for example, or Nudemarkt Peanut Butter, had some of their sales channels explode,” Lozano said.
“It sounds weird, but we were actually happy when we heard that their businesses were growing and flourishing with their own sales channels, so much that they wanted to like scale down their presence on the Be Local store.”
Cocobakes owner Mariah Tanedo, who took part in the Be Local Christmas shop local campaign selling chocolate bombs on the e-commerce site, said that sales on the website weren’t as good as they were in 2021.
“I’m pretty sad about it because it was a great community of local sellers around Calgary, but I guess the sales this year weren’t as good as last year, so I get that,” Tanedo said.
She said that despite the shop closing down, she would remain a part of the Be Local network. She welcomed any help the organization could provide in transitioning.
“I have a food truck, so that keeps me pretty busy, but if another e-commerce website comes up, I mean, why not? Right?”
Network will remain to support local businesses doing good
Lozano emphasized that the Be Local network would remain and that Momentum would be providing continued support to businesses to transition to other e-commerce methods.
He also said that they would be assisting business-to-business connections between businesses that have successfully transitioned to their own e-commerce platforms, and people looking to do so. An example of that, said Lozano, was one entrepreneur who had been able to get their products listed on Spud, which serves a far larger area than Calgary.
In an email obtained by LiveWire Calgary, Be Local told local businesses that the timeline for the e-commerce site being closed was indefinite and that discussions would be ongoing as to when that would occur.
That email also said that customers with Be Local gift cards would also continue to be able to use them and that the network was asking businesses to retain inventory for that purpose.
Lozano said that Be Local would be unveiling future plans soon, along with a more specific timeline, but that they are “giving the network time to breathe because everyone’s still in a holiday rush hangover.”
“We’re always trying to route what we’re doing in community to make sure we’re not just like moving the work in a direction where we think it needs to go, but where the community wants to go,” Lozano said.
Part of the decision to shut down the site came as a result of interviews that were conducted with members in 2022, and the new direction, he said, would be influenced by more one-on-one interviews this year.
“Every time I’ve presented this new format, this new work plan, people get really excited about it and I think it’s going to big year for us,” he said.
Getting better at telling the Be Local story
One of the renewed focuses will be on better emphasizing to Calgary that Be Local members are more than just transactional businesses—they have a role in improving the social life of Calgarians.
“Some of our businesses you won’t know that behind the scenes, they have a hiring practice of employing marginalized women, for example, who might be coming from a domestic violence background,” he said.
“But front facing, they’ll just be a regular cleaning company. And so one of the things that we’re trying to figure out how do we tell that story of these businesses that people probably don’t know about unless you’re friends with the owners, or unless you are a customer of theirs for years.”
The focus on not just businesses, but “local businesses that actually give a damn,” will continue despite the e-commerce website shutdown.
Lozano said they would be looking at revamping their business directory to make it easier for customers to connect with businesses, but also for businesses to update information about what they are doing in their communities.
“We just want to do it right, and we’re going to take a little bit of time to figure out what that new format is gonna be. But 100 per cent, we want to be able to showcase these amazing businesses to the rest of the city,” he said.
“Buying is one aspect of that, but how do we actually rally behind a business and how does a business rally behind community and meaningful long-term, authentic ways? That’s kind of the space that we’re trying to move the whole network into, is creating businesses that foster a sense of community and belonging in Calgary.”