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U.K. based Create and Craft opens Grand Rapids office and is hiring

UK -based crafts channel opens office in Grand Rapids.






Independent grocer explores technology to serve customers

Although there have a been a great deal of technological advances in the grocery industry over the years, primarily operational, technology is not always the first thing that customers think about when grocery shopping.  

However, for independent grocer Forest Hills Foods, applying technology to  customer service will be one strategy they explore to better serve customers.

Jeff VandenBerge, president of Forest Hills Foods, singles out a mobile shopping application currently being developed in conjunction with Jonathan Engelsma at the Grand Valley State University App Lab as one example of how technology will be used for customer service. The  app will have several features, such as an interior map of the store and coupons to make the shopping experience easier and faster.

Forest Hills Foods' website also has a meal planning interface, daily recipes, information on cooking workshops at the store, exclusive email coupons and links to their Facebook page.  

VandenBerge is quick to point out that he is more concerned with not being "behind the curve" than being "ahead of the curve."

"Everyone in this industry is looking towards technological solutions to enhance the shopping experience," he says, "and we are a little ahead of the curve, but our resources are limited. The potential is tremendous, however."

Besides the application and web-based services, VandenBerge also focuses on non-technological ways to remain responsive to customers, pointing out the growth of their gluten-free products and the increase in locally-sourced produce. "Many of our marketing initiatives are the result of what our customers tells us," he says.

To learn more about Forest Hills Foods, you can visit their website here.

Source: Jeff VandenBerge, Forest Hills Foods
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Online buying club ready to roll after January Startup Weekend

At Startup Weekend last January, Paul Kortman pitched an idea and spent the next 48 hours working to start the development of a web-based buying club.

While Startup Weekend is an event with the intention of "starting something," some ventures move forward after the weekend, and others do not. In Kortman's case, the weekend proved to be the platform he needed.

Kortman came to the weekend with the concept partially developed, but stated "we wouldn't be here today without Startup Weekend. I formed a team, and am now lightyears ahead of where I would be without that experience."

Kortman, owner/founder of Connex Social, now has a dedicated team and is ready to test Bulko, a concept that "leverages the power of group buying by providing wholesale purchase discounts to subscribers of the service."

Kortman references the growing trend of discount buying services like Groupon and says his niche will be products versus services. Initially, Bulko will focus on three industries: wine, health food/natural products and consumer products in the green/energy sector.

The Bulko team is ready to test their concept with 25 participants in West Michigan and has plans to enter an expanded beta test this summer.

Kortman is also seeking investors for his venture, which is a change from his initial approach of bootstrapping the operation. "We are looking to get funding to have developers quit their day jobs," he says.

Team members include developers Joe Vanderstelt, Jack Slingerland and co-founders Sarah Cleveland and Paul Kortman.

Source: Paul Kortman, Bulko
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Website pitches discounts for active moms

John Rumery

MomsinTow.com is an online community in West Michigan providing area merchant discounts and information on networking opportunities to mothers interested in maintaining an active lifestyle.  

MomsinTow.com Founder Jenny White, 29, came up with the idea for the online venture soon after she moved back to Holland, MI from Colorado with her husband, a professional cyclist, and their newborn son, Macen.

While in Colorado, White had been involved with a group of young mothers that got together for hiking and biking and supported kid-friendly stores.  Wanting to meet other new mothers in Holland, who were interested in active lifestyles with their children, White had an idea for a website that would serves a platform for these moms to interact and to share ideas, plus serve as a catalyst to meet offline as well.   

Taking it one step further, White felt that besides being a resource site, why not use this community of active moms to approach local businesses to see if they would provide discounts on their products or services in exchange for patronage by this customer base?

According to White, "merchants have loved this concept," and she has very positive and encouraging feedback from everyone she has discussed this with. 

Which is good, because White, who has no background in sales, admits to being  "very nervous" when initially approaching the business community with the idea. But, local businesses immediately saw the benefits of direct marketing to young families early in developing their purchasing patterns.

White now has a core listing of select businesses that provide discounts to members of MomsinTow.com. There is no cost to the merchant to become part of the first level of the network. White also has a paid sponsorship program for businesses that will provide them extra visibility to this community.

For the moms, in order to get these discounts, there is a $30.00 annual membership fee, soon increasing to $48.00.  White says the primary benefit of membership is to "save money at local businesses." 

White is also quick to point out these businesses are not just mom-related, but family-related. For example: "We just partnered with a plumbing firm," White says. "Moms are usually the ones at home and have to deal with the plumber."

White will be relying heavily on word-of-mouth and social media to spread the word. She points to their Facebook page as key source of marketing. 

White also is very appreciative and amazed at the help she has received from the entrepreneurial community. She recently pitched MomsinTow.com at pitch night at Startup West Michigan and took first place.

"I am just discovering the support groups for entrepreneurs," she says. "Pitch night was terrific evening."  

For more information, you can visit the MomsInTow.com or attend their launch party on Thursday, October, 14, details on their Facebook page.

Source. Interview with Jenny White

 

John Rumery is the Innovation and Jobs Editor for Rapid Growth Media. He is an educator, board member of AimWest, WYCE music programmer, entrepreneur, raconteur and competitive barbecuer living in Grand Rapids, MI.  He can be reached at InnovationandJobs@RapidGrowthMedia.com

 For story tips you can e-mail info@rapidgrowthmedia.com





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