By Danny Monahan
Small Business Administration public information officer
Daily deal websites offer discount vouchers on everything from yoga classes to ice cream cones from businesses throughout the country and the world.
Localvore Today located in Burlington has decided to take the daily deal website concept and apply it at the local level, and only the local level.
“We don’t offer vouchers for big national chains or franchises,” said Dan White, Localvore Today owner. “We only offer vouchers for local businesses throughout Vermont.”
Localvore Today is the brainchild of White. White, who is from Evanston Ill., came to Vermont because he felt the market was lacking competition, and wanted to create a daily deal website that is socially responsible and supports buying local.
“I specifically chose this market because Vermont culturally represents the buying local mentality,” he said. “There has been a big push these past few years to get people to eat locally, but I think we need to take it a step further and get people to buy more locally produced products. And I think this is a great place to start because Vermont has been ‘buying local’ before it was cool.”
According to White, each year millions of dollars leave Burlington only to flow out of state and many times out of the country.
“As a local and independent merchant, we strongly believe we need to keep dollars in Vermont,” said White. “Purchasing from us, you are essentially buying local twice.”
The company started with 1,000 email subscribers and now has more than 7,000. One of the ways it has been able to grow is through White explaining to merchants that Localvore Today can be used as an alternative to traditional advisement.
“This is a measureable investment,” said White. “A business can spend $500 on a printed ad and it may never know how it affected their business. By using Localvore Today, the money spent can be measured and tracked through the vouchers purchased.”
Localvore Today was able to establish itself and learn how to build a local presence in Vermont with help from the Vermont Small Business Development Center located in Randolph.
“I have advised Dan on a number of topics including growth strategies, funding opportunities and general business questions,” said Steve Densham, a VtSBDC Area Business Advisor in Burlington and St. Albans.
“Dan’s business model is a good one with a high probability of success based on his ‘local money stays in Vermont’ approach, which could afford him a sustainable, competitive advantage in this and other markets,” said Densham.
White eventually wants to grow his company and reproduce its concept in communities throughout New England.
“Steve has been a tremendous help,” said White. “He believes in our model and he recognizes its pioneering aspect. Localvore Today really appreciates his guidance.”
Advising is the foundation of the VtSBDC. Its advisors, located throughout its 12 regional officers, offer no cost, confidential, one-on-one business advising to business owners and startups.
“Dan is driven and has a great air of enthusiasm tempered with a sound, pragmatic approach to balance his entrepreneurial verve,” said Densham. “Dan is a great example of the 21st Century. He is a young entrepreneur who has vision, drive and the right amount of swagger to bring an innovative concept to market.”
For more information about how to start or grow a Vermont-based business, visit www.vtsbdc.org.
By Danny Monahan
Small Business Administration Vermont District Office public information officer
Maybe his guitar of choice is a 1965 Fender Stratocaster. Or perhaps it’s a 2013 PRS Custom 22. Whatever the preference, it can be placed into his hands without him ever having to leave the couch.
It’s not that lifelike, but it’s what the owners of Music Store Live are trying to accomplish with their online guitar store, musicstorelive.com.
“Our goal is to bring the guitar shop into your living room and come as close as we can to putting the guitar into your hands without actually doing it,” said Ben Werlin, Music Store Live co-owner.
Music Store Live highlights its new, used and vintage guitars through high resolution photos and videos.
After a little more than two years, their website has made them one of the largest Fender Guitar retailers in the northeast.
It started in the fall of 2010, when brothers Ben and Brandon Werlin were camping in Yosemite National Park talking about their jobs.
“We are sitting on a boulder under the stars having some beers,” said Ben Werlin. “Brandon has always been involved in selling things on-line and he was looking to hire an assistant. He asked me how he should go about hiring someone. I started giving him some advice when I had an epiphany. I said ‘wait a minute … we should partner up.’ We got really excited about the potential that was out there if we scaled Brandon’s model, and really innovated within it. I came back from my trip and we began making Music Store Live.”
Music Store Live attributes much of its starting success to the Vermont Small Business Development Center.
“The VtSBDC has been great,” said Werlin. “We were referred to them, and they are a totally free resource any small business owner can use. They helped us with creating a business plan and projections, so we could go to a bank prepared with exactly what the bank would want to see in order to approve a loan.”
For their first loan, they were approved for $130,000 and shortly afterwards approved for a $300,000 loan, both backed by the Small Business Administration.
“We first started in my house, but after a few months it became evident we were going to have to move when I couldn’t sit down in my living room,” said Ben Werlin. “Every couch and chair was blocked by stacks of guitar cases.”
In 2011, they moved to a small warehouse by the airport in South Burlington, Vt. As the business grew, they moved within the same building a few months later, with plans to tear down walls, so they can expand more.
Today they have more than a dozen employees.
“We are very happy about the number of local jobs we have been able to create,” said Jeff Santoro, Music Store Live co-owner. “As a whole our employees are doing something they love to do.”
Music Store Live employs two photographers, two descriptive writers, two guitar techs, two shippers, three salesmen, a videographer, an instrument buyer, an accountant, and a digital/IT manager.
“We take high res photos of each guitar from several different angles, so integrity is built into the sale immediately,” said Santoro. “This approach improves customer satisfaction because people see exactly what it is they are buying.”
The videographer spends most of his day in the warehouse’s video studio filming Bob Wagner, their in-house guitarist and descriptive writer playing countless guitars.
For their efforts of bridging the gap between the online and in-store experience, they have been recognized by the SBA as 2013 Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
The annual award is presented to business owners under 35 who have had success in sales, profits, increasing jobs, having innovative business methods and demonstrating entrepreneurial potential necessary for economic growth.
“Winning this award has made us realize what a team effort this is,” said Ben Werlin. “I’m really proud we’ve been recognized this quickly, but it couldn’t have been done without all of the talented people spending their days here, making all of the moving parts work as well as they do.”
Music Store Live says it plans to continue its mission to reinvent the way people buy musical gear, and this is just the beginning.
Andrew Boutin, general manager of Pellergy LLC founded the business in 2006 with a goal to cut home heating costs by using a locally renewable fuel. He started in his basement, moved to a two-car garage, and now works out of a 2,000 square-foot space inthe old North Barre Granite building. Andrew was new to owning a business and credits the Vermont Small Business Development Center for providing important technical assistance throughout the entire process, helping with his business plan, financial projections and business goals and objectives. Andrew also teamed up with a manufacturer in Finland and secured the exclusive rights to its fully automated burner systems - systems that Pellergy manufactures in America, mostly in Vermont. The system converts oil heating systems to wood pellets yet preserves most of the heating system components.
Years of Pellergy testing and further years of residential utilization in Northern Europe have established the reliability of the systems. Andrew redesigned the European system to standard U.S. dimensions, tolerances, materials and components. Then he found local fabrication shops to produce the parts and set up a local assembly operation. Rather than create his own sales and service staff, Andrew trains fully certified local home-heating companies' technicians to install and service wood pellet central heating systems and supports them with, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, live person technical support. He felt this was a better way to support existing businesses. Pellergy assists with the initial setup of the system, troubleshooting and routine maintenance whenever questions may arise. Because there is very little standardization in today's wood pellet home-heating world, installers are trained to meet customers' frequent need for a custom or semi-custom design.
By 2010, Andrew had created enough of a demand for his product that he was able to leave his job at General Dynamics to focus full time on Pellergy. The company also now sells fully integrated wood pellet boilers made from U.S. steel and cast iron, in three different sizes. They also offer greenhouse heaters with up to 200,000 btu output made in the States as well. Andrew has distributors in Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maine and Alaska and has trained 35 certified installers in those areas as well. In the first three years, sales have gone from nothing to over $200,000 in 2011.