Broderick Byers envisions an Amazon-like virtual marketplace for Philadelphia’s many independent retailers, eateries and other businesses.
Such a website, he believes, could not only boost online sales but help draw shoppers to the city’s neighborhood commercial corridors for in-person experiences.
Byers is executive director of ShopPhilly1st, an online business directory that, while it has been in the works for four years, is about to launch its first big promotional campaign.
With the help of a $149,324 grant from U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, ShopPhilly1st is planning to produce dozens of videos profiling neighborhood business districts and individual storefronts.
In addition, the organization hopes to launch the third version of its site, which allows users to filter businesses by the race, gender and sexual orientation of the owner, by the end of the year, Byers said.
The grant-funded project is a partnership between iSwop Networks, Byers’s for-profit company that controls ShopPhilly1st; VestedIn, a community bank formerly known as the West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution; and Temple University’s Small Business Development Center.
ShopPhillyFirst will use the federal money to film 15 short clips about commercial corridors in West Philadelphia, Center City and Northwest Philadelphia. Three businesses on each of the avenues will also receive a video profile.
With the corridor-specific videos, the hope is that consumers will be intrigued to venture outside of their own neighborhood to peruse shops and dine at restaurants on commercial strips like 52nd Street and Germantown Avenue.
Byers said the organization plans to do a holiday season push this year, promoting the videos on television and through social media advertising.
Right now, ShopPhillyFirst is only producing videos in Evans’s district; however, Byers said they hope to expand to other areas, including South and Northeast Philadelphia.
Along with the clips, Temple’s SBDC will be helping stores and restaurants with a digital strategy, and VestedIn can offer financing for business development projects, Byers added.
ShopPhilly1st’s overall goal, Byers said, is to provide exposure for smaller, standalone stores and encourage consumers to buy from local establishments.
“Your franchises, for example, they’ve got the marketing support to promote and therefore drive business,” he told Metro. “But it’s that mom-and-pop store in West Philly, or even in Chestnut Hill, that doesn’t have that kind of advertising budget.”
The search engine’s core demographic is “intentional shoppers,” people looking to purposely support local businesses and enterprises led by people of color and women.
On the website, shoppers can search for businesses by type, neighborhood and what Byers calls “affinity group” — such as LGBTQ-owned, Black-owned and women-owned. Users could, for example, look for an Asian-owned shoe store in Center City.
When the new version of the site debuts, shoppers will be able to sign up for memberships, which could involve a virtual wallet with targeted deals and coupons. Byers said he is working with business groups to provide additional incentives.
Businesses do not have to pay to be included in the directory, though ShopPhilly1st does plan to charge for featured listings.
Byers is hopeful that corporate donors will step in to sponsor additional videos that highlight local shops. ShopPhilly1st also plans to sell advertisements on the site.
“I’ll figure out the revenue streams as we go,” he said. “This is not for someone who’s trying to make a killing.”
“I do this because I have a passion for small business as a business owner,” Byers added. “I do this because I want to see certain communities thrive.”