While local businesses face an unprecedented crisis during the coronavirus pandemic, platforms like Amazon are making huge profits. This is one reason why we support the #supportyourlocals campaign with free hosting for portals that digitally network local businesses. One such platform is Rhine Heroes. We talked to initiator Alexander about the project.
How did you get the idea for Rhine Heroes? Can you tell us exactly what you're doing to support companies from the region strengthen their local online marketing?
Basically, two points were pivotal for us. Firstly, we wanted to show solidarity with the local economy and help with our expertise in local and regional online marketing. Secondly, we noticed that due to the various delivery and pick-up services and the resulting advertising - in social media and through flyers - the landscape was quite jumbled. This meant it was hard for customers to find their way through all these different sources of information and offers.
These two points gave us the idea to develop a platform on which all companies in the local Rhine area could present themselves. Customers would then have a comprehensive yet simple overview of what was still being offered during the corona crisis.
Help for RAIDBOXES customers during the pandemic
We need to stick together in a crisis! That's why we want to help our customers from industries that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic: culture, gastronomy, hotels, and events. Find out more about our program.
Alternatives to Amazon & Co.
What can each and every one of us do to ensure local traders don't have to close their doors for good? In our private lives but also as a team in a company?
There are different ways we can focus more on local trade and buy locally. As a company or family, we can use the various delivery and collection services of the restaurateurs, who, despite the temporary easing, are still suffering immense financial losses. Moreover, ratings and recommendations also help bring customers in.
Especially since the corona crisis, more and more people are using Google search or social media channels to find up-to-date information about local retailers. Good and numerous ratings can really influence whether or not people decide to buy from a particular place. Recommendations or advertising from customers help companies to stay relevant and boost dipping sales. This can be done, for example, with a "Support small businesses" sticker on an Instagram Story.
Your own online shop
Does every shop and restaurant now need its own online shop? Who does it make sense for?
It's certainly advisable for all brick and mortar companies, i.e. where customer contact doesn't take place on the internet but on business and sales premises, to consider having an online shop. Firstly, as part of an omnichannel strategy. These are becoming more and more popular and are increasingly being used by small and medium-sized companies. Secondly, as part of their own digitization strategy to automate manual activities, e.g. taking orders by phone or email.
This can sometimes be achieved with a simple form with built quickly with Contact Form 7 on your WordPress site. Or the "Social Shops" on Facebook or Instagram. The great advantage of an online shop is that companies offer their customers a way to shop outside regular business hours - and so generate sales at any time of day. Especially in times of hard lockdowns, a webshop can become essential for survival.
Successful omnichannel marketing
What other ways can you recommend to be present online?
A website is, of course, still one of the easiest ways to have a presence online. But entries in online business directories, rating portals, and social media are also important for success. This gives your customers and any interested parties as many different ways as possible to find your company. It's essential the same and correct information is available everywhere, however. If customers find themselves in front of closed doors because of incorrect information about opening times, it will only tarnish your reputation.
I often hear the argument "Amazon is so convenient" or "the service there is so much better". What do local merchants need to do better to compete with these giants?
It's important to reach all target groups. The classic "window shopping" is and remains attractive. In addition, they need to emphasize the benefits of buying in local shops. But the advantages of online shopping for customers must also be taken up and strategized accordingly. I think the future will involve managing several distribution channels, so-called omnichannel marketing.
The right network
What financial and other support did you receive to implement the Rhine Heroes?
First of all, we submitted the idea to the mayor of the city of Neuss who offered us his support and established contacts with the business development agencies in Neuss and the Rhine area. Other parties were involved including Neuss Marketing, the Neuss savings bank, and various trade and business associations.
In operating the platform, the RAIDBOXES team supported us with free hosting, the marketing agency Z Plus M assisted in the area of social media, and all our legal matters were covered by the lawyers from- justra.dedistinctly.
Funding for WordPress projects
A website with WordPress or WooCommerce in Germany can receive up to 16,500 euros funding from the go-digital program of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi). Further information can be found in our blog post about go-digital.
WordPress plugin for regional directories
What WordPress plugins and themes can you recommend for anyone wanting to set up a similar initiative in other regions? Or did you develop a lot by yourself?
The platform builds on the plugin GeoDirectory and we developed it further by ourselves, adapting it to our needs. We built a custom theme to do this. It's not the absolute best solution to build a directory of this kind because, as with any plugin or theme, you quickly reach your limit. But it was the best and fastest way for the timeframe we had available. Generally speaking, we'd recommend this method. Our platform can also be made available for similar projects.
A few words about you and your company? How are you dealing with the corona crisis?
I founded the company stadtbekannt in 2016. Our vision was to create a white-label platform that helps multipliers such as advertising agencies, web agencies, web hosters etc. to expand their portfolio with products like presence and reputation management. To be able to offer their customers really important and helpful services in the field of online marketing. At the same time, our mission is to help consumers ease tensions caused by a multitude of incorrect contact details and opening hours. Where they end up standing in front of mostly closed doors. I'm sure everyone's experienced this at some point, especially in unfamiliar cities.
We don't only sell the well-known software as a white label, we also distribute it ourselves. A further mission of ours is to help companies in six countries with a tedious and time-consuming but essential task: managing entries in online business directories, rating portals, and on social media. Allowing companies to concentrate on their core competencies instead.
As we work with many SMEs in the local and regional area, we've been involved in the corona crisis from an early stage. Nevertheless, we also saw it as an opportunity from the very beginning, as it made companies realize how important it is to have a good online presence. And how this can really make them known in their own city. We hope the Rhine Heroes platform is a small contribution to making what has been a difficult year for everyone a little easier.
Our team consists of experienced remote workers so the crisis fortunately hasn't had a big impact on our work processes. But of course, we all miss the personal encounters with colleagues and customers.