A few weeks back I said I’d talk about creating a small online business that is based in a local area.

At first, my brain had to struggle a bit with this ‘local’ thing. After all, the beauty of the Internet is that everywhere is ‘local.’ Distance and place have no real meaning.

And when was the last time you read about a small, local Internet business in any of the fancy web-business magazines? The whole idea of staying local just isn’t ‘hot.’

At this point, a savvy entrepreneur is beginning to smell gold. After all, if nobody is thinking local, there are probably a zillion opportunities just waiting to be discovered. And, of course, many smart people are already working hard in this space. It’s just that we don’t hear a lot about them.

Anyway, while we’re waiting for them to hit the headlines, here’s a local plan that might work. And it’s scalable too.

Step One:

I’m going to find a city of reasonable size, preferably in the South and by the sea. There is no business reason for this, but life is short and the sun and sea make me happy.

Step Two:

I’m going to buy a small local courier company that has a few nice-looking trucks. I’m going to rename this courier company

Step Three:

I’m going to build a web site ‘mall’ of local businesses. When someone buys from one of my ‘tenants,’ I’ll deliver the purchase in one of my trucks. (Local deliveries only.)

What kind of stores will I sign up as tenants?

I’m thinking supermarkets and pharmacies as my first targets. These are places where people shop on a regular basis and spend quite a lot of money each time.

Then we could try home furnishings. Even gifts and toys.

(You know what I’d really like? A gasoline delivery service. Let’s have a gas truck that will come by and fill your car up with gas while you’re at work. We’ll clean windshields at the same time.)

You get the idea? Come to the site and click on the Bob’s Supermarket button. Buy your groceries online and they will be delivered to your home or office in one of our trucks.

The idea here is not to be an online grocery. The model here is to be a delivery service that keeps clients by hosting and promoting their web sites.

Step Four:

I’ve got to market this sucker now. It’s one thing to build these retail sites at my online mall, but how am I going to get people to come and visit?

First off, I have to declare that I have a deep-seated fear of spending zillions of dollars on online advertising. I don’t know how people do that without busting an ulcer. So, as is my nature, I’m going to try to build the marketing and promotion plan into the business model itself.

  • We’ll get our tenants to promote our site within their physical stores. With tent cards, coupons, hanging cards and posters. Let’s push to have the domain name printed on every receipt.

    Why would our tenants bother? What’s in it for them? Well, merchandise that is sold from their web site doesn’t have to be put on shelves and handled by checkout staff. They increase their margins.

  • We’ll use our delivery vehicles as mobile billboards. We’ll show both our brand and the names of our tenants. The trucks will be seen downtown — and they’ll be seen driving up and down residential streets as they’re making deliveries.

    See the plan in action here? We’re leveraging the fact that this is local. Local people get to see our vehicles day after day.

    We’re giving a web site some local, outdoor visibility.

  • With every delivery, we’ll also drop off our print ‘catalog’ (generated from the web site database) that shows the best of the best from all of our online tenants. People can browse the catalog, go to the site to buy what they see — or they call just pick up the phone. It’s a local call!
  • And yes, twist my arm, we’ll invest a few bucks on advertising in local newspapers and on the radio.

Messy, isn’t it?

We’ve got a web site, we’ve got delivery trucks, we’ve got stores, we’ve got a print catalog, we’ve got phone ordering.

And it might just work.

(How do we get paid? 1. Delivery fees. 2. Charge our tenants for ads on our trucks and in our catalogs. 3. Whatever else we can come up with.)

And if it does work, we’ll do the same thing in another hundred cities. And then a hundred more.

The moral of the story? If you’re going to go local, leverage as many benefits to being local as you possibly can.

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