By Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published  Oct 25, 2021

The Whitecourt District Chamber of Commerce (WDCC) has a program initiative underway to help promote local businesses in multiple new ways. One way involves a website initiated by the Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC). “They received grant funding from the Government of Canada to execute a local shopping support initiative that was to be province-wide,” explained Dana Severson, executive director of WDCC. “In turn, the ACC opened it up to individual chambers to apply for a portion of that funding to develop and execute our own shop local support program in each of our regions.”

The WDCC applied and received $39,600 to put towards a locally-focused project. There are multiple pieces to the puzzle, with the first being a business video project. “We’ve hired a videographer to create a variety of different length videos that we can feature on our website and social media and have them touch on the full cycle of our local economy. It’ll include how spending our dollars locally impacts our small and large businesses and in turn how those businesses support our community and attract workers, which then establishes the need for increased services.”

Severson said the point of the videos is to give clarity to the general public that it’s not just “shop local” because it’s a nice thing to do but that it’s imperative to do so for the survival of the region. The impact of those dollars touches everybody, whether they realize it or not. The videographer will be out and about in the community filming the clips and will focus on local businesses and locations.

The second part of the project is a shop local campaign which they used to encompass their Love for Local Shop-A-Thon held in August. The final piece is the website www.whitecourt.chambermarket.ca. “The intention is to give our businesses that don’t have a strong online shopping presence a zero cost way to get on board with it. The ACC will have an overarching province-wide campaign to get consumer awareness and our chamber is doing a localized campaign on top of that,” explained Severson.

“It’s to give further exposure to the brick and mortar storefronts by expanding their online presence. Some smaller businesses that do markets and put together events can’t necessarily do the online part. Also, businesses that already have an eCommerce presence can off those costs of hosting and the upkeep of their site because they can switch to this one and reduce those costs.” With the site falling under the ACC umbrella, it also gives local retailers the chance to reach consumers outside of the region as a bonus.

“This website is about taking back some piece of the pie from the global online retailers. They’ve seen unbelievable growth and exponential opportunity, especially considering the different restrictions put on small businesses over the last year and a half that impacted their sales and what they were able to do for revenue. It’ll give small businesses a more level playing field so that they can have a consolidated, attractive, user-friendly, all-in-one eCommerce site without the overhead of a per item or monthly fee that they can get hit with from other sites.”

The website will also help local small businesses compete with larger retailers, and the WDCC has a way to help business owners have the most attractive products possible. “We purchased some lightboxes and photo accessories so that our businesses can borrow this equipment, take it to their shop and get professional, updated photos of their products.”

Chamber members and non-members alike can take part in this opportunity though there are differences between the two. “The use of the lights and photo equipment is free for chamber members. There is a fee for non-members if they would like to use it. Also, we are only featuring chamber members in the videography project,” said Severson.

Another bonus for chamber members is the chance to win cash just for signing up to the website. “The first 40 members that complete their onboarding and bring their online store live will be entered into one of four $1000 draws as a thank you for taking the time as we know time is very valuable.” Non-members can still access the market, just not the draws, as the Chamber Market is open to all businesses in Alberta.

Severson said there are various reasons some local businesses would want to participate in a project like this. “There is definitely a good chunk of businesses that haven’t gotten into eCommerce yet. They might think the products they have wouldn’t be relative to eCommerce, or they have too much inventory, and the thought of doing eCommerce is daunting. I think there’s also a chunk of folks that feel that their social media profile or a static single home page webpage is as much tech maintenance they can manage right now.”

Severson said that the strength of a business community is reflected in the strength of their Chamber of Commerce. “We see different communities and regions with a smaller chamber or a smaller membership base. Their ability to execute these coordinator efforts, whether it’s advocacy or local shopping promotions or working with community partners to bring what’s needed to the region, is much harder. It’s noticeable what the connectivity does. Whether it’s a Chamber of Commerce or other organization that acts as that center point for businesses to connect and interact and complement each other is valuable. Having our region recognized as being the strong economic base that we are is because of our business community seeing the value in an organization like the chamber.” For more information on joining the website, call 780-778-5363 or visit www.whitecourtchamber.com.

This item is reprinted with permission from Whitecourt Press.

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