Sponsored by TruLocal
TruLocal, a community-focused e-commerce site, selected Indianapolis as its inaugural market and launched earlier this month. Customers can shop a wide range of local boutiques and brands—such as Lark & Lily Boutique, Sweet Things Chocolates, and Pair’D Furnishings—and pick up purchases or have them delivered. (Direct shipping is coming soon.)
The San Francisco–based operation is led by Susan Hollingshead, a South Bend native and veteran of the software, finance, and real estate industries, who is passionate about TruLocal’s mission: helping communities thrive by connecting small businesses with shoppers who know the importance of supporting local.
What led to the creation of TruLocal?
SH: I have always been a huge supporter of local retail, no matter where I’ve lived and what I’ve done in my life. I’ve always been aware that local retail is part of what knits a community together. So when one of my other co-founders came to me with this idea, I was intrigued. That was over a year ago, well before COVID. At that time, a lot of my interest and excitement was around creating a vehicle that could help local retailers maintain market share and compete against large, global e-commerce companies. Then COVID appears, and having a strong ecommerce presence becomes a life-or-death matter for them. Without e-commerce, it’s very difficult for many locally owned small businesses to survive.
What about the Indianapolis market piqued your interest?
SH: First of all, Indianapolis is so important to me personally because I spent so much time there growing up – with family, shopping, and just enjoying the city and its surroundings. In terms of how the city fits well with our business model, there are several factors. It has a great mix of retailers, consumers with strong local shopping habits, and a very supportive local government and other organizations that recognize the critical role local retailers play in their community. Those are things we felt would make Indianapolis a really interesting and successful place to do our first pilot. I was born a Hoosier and a big part of me, no matter how many years I’ve lived in California, is still a Hoosier.
How does TruLocal work?
SH: To compete successfully in the digital age, local retailers have to leverage technology to bolster sales and ensure the future growth of their businesses. There’s very little way to get around that anymore. What TruLocal does is level the playing field. It gives local retailers a large e-commerce platform that can search-optimize and leverage marketing and advertising on local retailers’ behalf so consumers can find their way to those retailers online. With TruLocal.com, those retailers now have the efficiency and search optimization that their large e-commerce competitors have used to their advantage until now.
There are certainly some local retailers who can say, ‘Well, we’re pretty big. We’ve had a website for a long time, we have a shopping cart, we think we’re all good.’ That’s probably functioning best for those consumers who already know them but in a search, it’s not going to optimize because it’s a single small business. For those businesses to really be seen by consumers, existing and new, they need the power of their combined resources to give them true visibility and search optimization. TruLocal.com is a product and a need whose time has come.
How did COVID-19 alter your plans for launching the site?
SH: It accelerated it. We felt that retailers were shuttering their businesses every day and the most important thing we could do for communities was get this product up and running as fast as we possibly could. It’s a challenging endeavor because an enterprise e-commerce platform is a complicated product to build. But we were determined to build it as fast as humanly possible to activate our mission of helping local communities thrive, especially during this time of increased economic hardship.
Why is a site like TruLocal.com so important?
SH: It ties back to what I’ve seen communities go through over the last 40 years. Most of the Midwest, if you go back 40 years, had vibrant Main Streets. Every service a consumer would need was located on those Main Streets. And then big-box retailers came to the edge of town and those Main Streets were boarded up and abandoned in large part. Gradually, those locally and community-focused business districts began to reopen. It gave a whole new sense of community to these towns when that happened. And then you began to see the next ‘big-box’ emerge in the form of e-commerce and the fear that we would go back to what happened as a result of brick-and-mortar big-boxes. People realize that locally owned and operated retail is a big part of what makes a community feel like a community. At TruLocal, we say, ‘Shop where your heart is,’ and we provide a way for people to do just that.
Who’s your target customer?
SH: We believe all Indianapolis residents can benefit from shopping on TruLocal.com. There are probably very few people who don’t shop via e-commerce and don’t need some things that e-commerce provides. We think there are three particular types of shoppers who see a lot of value in what we offer and they’re not entirely distinct from one another. There are people who are deeply rooted in their community, always looking to support local businesses, and they want the resources to shop online within the community. There’s the efficient shopper, who needs to go online at the end of a busy day to buy what they need and get it delivered to their home because they don’t have time to go to the store and shop during normal business hours. And additionally, there’s a group of people who are very concerned about the environmental impact of large e-commerce, the amount of energy used in shipping, the amount of packaging. If something’s picked up and delivered locally, it effectively addresses that concern. You don’t need three boxes within the box, plus protective filler to protect that product! Again, we started TruLocal to help local communities thrive and we believe that’s something everyone can get behind.