It’s not a new idea. Many decades ago, local chamber of commerce types fretted when Annistonians hopped on the train to go do their shopping in Birmingham. They hated it when “chain stores” set up shop.
But Helms and Squitieri are putting an Internet twist on the idea. Working out of a home base in Oxford, they go off to work to find new ways to persuade the online consumer to keep his or her dollars concentrated in brick-and-mortar stores of Calhoun County.
Helms and Squitieri represent an online business entity known as RelyLocal. As a national movement it’s a couple of years old. Helms and Squitieri set up their local “chapter” of it, so to speak, in November.
It’s a membership program for any Calhoun County-based business, which for $25 a month gets exposure on www.RelyLocal.com.
“It’s very very new, but it’s way cool,” Helms said.
One of the messages on the website sums up its mission: “[It] isn’t just about printing local coupons and finding local jobs in Calhoun County — it is a campaign to strengthen our community from the ground up!”
What that means for Helms and Squitieri is lots of legwork and driving time during the day as they meet business owners who might want to buy into the RelyLocal message.
“I don’t want to see Walmart take over the world,” Helms said. “It’s about coming back and helping the local community.”
The evening hours are when the partners do the computer work that keeps their site attractive and accurate.
It can be a challenge for Helms, an English major, with a minor in marketing, who concedes “I don’t have any kind of computer background — I’m teaching myself as I go.”
But she’s been in environments where tools of the Internet get intensive use; previous employment has been at Cox Communications, Yellow Book and a movie theater advertising company.
Squitieri, whose background includes marketing and real estate, moved here from south Florida near the end of last year to enjoy a slower pace of life, he said.
And so he enjoys dealing with the smaller businesses of the area.
We do not do business, Squitieri said, “with the big-box companies.”
They’re happy to help out franchise owners, but the business must be locally owned and operated.
“Our mission,” Helms explained, “is to help local businesses and bring consumers to local businesses.”
To that end, the partners are responsible for including on the RelyLocal website elements that will attract customers.
“We’re going to make sure we put the same photos on the websites that are on the brochures” of any given company.
Although Helms and Squitieri pay royalties to the national RelyLocal organization, 90 percent of their income stays local, she said.
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