When small business owners Katie Manganaro and Jill Dudzinski jumped headfirst into their passion projects (Little Mango and hello ruby, respectively) they felt the cold chill of isolation.
“When you’re in small business it’s lonely,” Manganaro said. “[When I started in 2016], I didn’t have any employees and I had no resources.”
That changed in 2017 when the small business owners met on Instagram, sparking a relationship that would lay the groundwork for A Local Collective, a small-business community.
The success they experienced while sharing ideas and collaborating gave them an idea: what if they brought together other small businesses for pop-up events.
“There is more power in numbers, so if it’s Jill and Katie and three other shops, we can benefit from their social media reach and get new customers,” Manganaro said.
Strength in Numbers
With that, A Local Collective was born and in November of 2018 it held its first big event in a former Bath & Body Works location in Westroads Mall. Leading up to Christmas the pop-up was open with 10 local vendors.
Other events followed, like the Modern Market, Boutique Warehouse Sale and the pre-black Friday Shop Early, Virtually event. The goal became to not only increase profit but amplify awareness.
“There are so many small businesses that we haven’t heard of and our goal is to shop local,” Dudzinski said.
The Shop Early, Virtually event, which launched in 2021, was designed to help consumers think of small businesses first during holiday shopping, a time when the duo said small businesses are often overshadowed by big box shops.
“Our goal was to say shop small before Black Friday and save with us with a universal coupon code,” Manganaro said.
The organization’s website, alocalcollectivene.com, served as a conduit during the event, obtaining and directing 66,000 views to 60 participating small businesses.
The next event, the third installment of the Boutique Warehouse Sale, received so much interest from small businesses that the duo had to add an additional weekend to the event.
“The Sale is a fun and popular event because it gives retailers a chance to clear out last season/ last year’s merchandise and make room for new spring styles, but it’s also a great way for our customers to shop boutiques and get a super low discount,” they said.
The event will be hosted at A Local Collective’s headquarters at 302 North Front Street in Waterloo on January 21-January 22 and January 28- January 29 with hours varying. Both weekends will have eight different vendors.
“From there we saw the need for other small businesses who would reach out to us on Instagram and ask us if they could bend our ear because they were starting a women’s boutique or kids store,” Manganaro said.
They decided to put together a forum for small business owners where they could hear and learn from experts in various fields such as marketing, bookkeeping, social media and more.
The first Retail Roundtable launched on May 13, 2021 and was sold out. The event was held at House of R, with food and drink catered from other local businesses.
They brought in Nicky Schmaderer, a social media pro with thousands of followers on Instagram and Pinterest, as well as her blog, Vida Noel, making her a social media influencer.
“She can teach why it’s important to use an influencer, what the influencer likes to see, and what they might expect,” Dudzinski said.
Other speakers and topics included: Importance of Branding, Wax Buffalo owner Alicia Reisinger, Bookeeping with Jill Jacobs from Jill Jacobs Bookkeeping, Social Media Management with Kary Wurth of Wurth Media, Social Media Ads with Kate Renter of Voke Media, and Going Live with Sara Pippett from Bad Habit Boutique.
Dudsinski said most attendees were friends they had met through the pop-up circuit. Proving once again that strength is in numbers, attendees who shared their experiences afterwards drummed up a whole new group of interested business owners. A second session, with adjustments, was planned and sold out again.
While Retail Roundup was a success, they’re considering topic specific forums for 2022 as well as a subscription service for business owners that refers potential customers.
For example, a business owner in Elkhorn could sign up to be a part of the directory at alocalcollectivene.com. Then, if a customer was looking for a small business in Elkhorn to support, they could use alocalcollectivene.com to find that business.
“It’s almost two components: the small shops and the customer,” Dudzinski said. “Giving [the shops] exposure, featuring and highlighting small businesses, but also helping customers find them.
“The bottom line is how can we help small businesses build brand awareness.”
The 80/20 Rule
As small business owners and parents, Manganaro and Dudzinski said they understand that shopping small isn’t always the most convenient or practical option.
“We’re not telling you to stop shopping at Amazon, or Wal-Mart of Target,” Manganaro said. “But, if you can shop small, we want you to think about it when you can.“
Dudsinski recommended trying an 80/20 rule — 80% big box, 20% local.