Ian and Amanda Liddle at the Renton Civic Theatre Auction, March 2013
Sit down and ask a small business owner why they’re in business. I guarantee you’ll hear a story. Behind every small business is a story about people. Sometimes it’s a story about a hobby or passion turned business. Sometimes it’s a story about lifelong dreams or goals. Sometimes it’s a story about job loss and desperation leading to starting or focusing on a business.
Our own story behind starting a RelyLocal campaign is deeply personal. It was born out of personal pain and hardship as well as a passion and drive to benefit our community, and love our neighbors well.
Ian and I grew up in the Renton area. Well, technically now it’s Newcastle, but when we were growing up it was an unincorporated area with a Renton address. We’ve also been small business owners our whole working lives: Ian as an independent contractor selling Cutco cutlery, and I as a piano teacher for 12 years, then as a midwife in independent practice for about 12 years. Between us we have 35 years of small business ownership experience.
We each left the Renton area as adults to find “greener pastures” associated with big city life, intending never to return. Ian interjects: “Well truthfully we left for greyer pastures. We never got farther from home than Seattle.” Nevertheless, as fate would have it, a series of tragic events including death of a loved one, loss of careers, and other similarly disruptive circumstances, led to making the decision to return to our hometown in March 2011.
Big winners at Las Vegas night at Harrington Square Apartments
True to the entrepreneurial spirit we both possess, we “got resourceful” and began to evaluate our options. Stripped of our identities, and newly married, our field of choices were wider than ever before. We considered what our goals as a couple were; top of our list was building community in our geographical area. We began to pray and seek opportunities to be community builders. We found our niche working as a “Community Team” with Community Northwest at Harrington Square Apartments for a little over a year. As a Community Team, we spent about 70 hours a month planning, organizing, and executing events for our neighbors, to encourage them to get to know one another. We put on over fifty events during the year of 2012.
Our heart for small businesses began to shine through in our work at Harrington Square. Recognizing small businesses as important stakeholders in the community, we began to reach out local proprietors to feature them in our events. We found that most of our neighbors chose to live in Renton, not because of it’s attractive features, but because of it’s proximity to Seattle, Bellevue, and other larger cities. They had no idea about the distinct flavor of the city they lived in. We enjoyed introducing residents to great businesses like The Local 907, Santa Fe Mexican Grill, Cedar River Cellars, Berliner Pub, All Things Wine, The Whole Pet, and others. We saw the importance of The Landing as a reason to go “under I-405″ from the Highlands, and even continue on to the magical land of Downtown Renton
Berliner Pub did a beer tasting for our barbecue at Harrington Square Apartments
I’ve heard it said that “No one knows how awesome Renton is, until they live there.” Historically speaking, Renton is not a bedroom community to Seattle. It has it’s own distinct story, flavor, and “scene”. As we offered residents a glimpse at all that Renton has to offer as a standalone community, we watched the shame that residents felt over Renton’s reputation change to pride in their community. We were proud of the work were doing as a Community Team, both bringing people together, as well as highlighting the great small businesses of Renton. And, we found that we were falling in love with Renton in a new way, also.
Encouraged that we could effect positive change working as a part time Community Team we started to look for opportunities beyond the gates of Harrington Square Apartments. We wondered, “What would happen if we were to do this work full time? Could we bring this type of influence to the whole city of Renton?”
A series of community meetings to discuss action steps after our screening of “Fixing the Future”
Meanwhile, RelyLocal Olympia was doing exactly that in their community. We heard about the Olympia campaign through a friend who is a small businesses owner in Thurston county. She gushed how much it has helped her business, and highlighted how similar it was to the work we were doing with Community Northwest. We knew the moment we heard about RelyLocal that it was a match made in heaven for us. We launched our campaign the very next month, in August of 2012.
A few things that attracted us to this model were:
- Great Tools. RelyLocal provides vital tools to start a buy-local campaign in the area where you live (it’s required that you live in your territory to start a campaign): web directory, logo, mobile app, etc.
- Inexpensive. Without a ton of startup capital, there is no way we would be able to replicate the quality of tools we license from RelyLocal.
- Adaptable. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each territory owner creates a campaign based on the needs of your community. It’s also adaptable in terms of the final product offered to businesses; we have the freedom to make use of our unique skills, passions, and experience in creating our local brand.
- Potential. RelyLocal is not a scam or get-rich-quick-scheme. It’s a solid, leading-edge concept backed with highly functional tools that a motivated individual or team could implement in such a way as to have 1) a rewarding career that 2) sustains a family 3) while we’re doing good work in our community. Opportunities with all of these three characteristics are rare.
This photo was taken at the cash mob for Happy Delusions shortly after owner Mary Clymer announced they would be closing. You can’t tell by our faces, but we were brokenhearted.
Since launching our RelyLocal campaign we have been privileged to meet amazing, dedicated leaders who work for our city. We suffered alongside every small business owner we talked to in Renton through a DESOLATE 2012 holiday season. We’ve met tenacious small business owners who haven’t taken home a paycheck in 3-5 years, and yet somehow persevere. We’ve mourned the closure of businesses we’d fallen in love with, while internally wondering if we’re “too late.” We’ve seen new collaborative relationships blossom between Renton businesses. We’ve seen our friends and neighbors begin to promote the spirit of “shopping local,” and get excited about various businesses we promote. We’ve discovered new local treasures that are so much fun to tell people about that it’s hard to stop promoting them when work hours are over. We’re compelled to promote these businesses because they’re just so amazing. And the people behind them are amazing.
In talking to some of our clients, we’re getting the picture that we’re an answer to prayer. We sense a wave of relief when we relate to our clients. They know that they’re not alone, that there’s a team that has their back. We feel so blessed that we can build a business out of not just what we love to do, but that we can see, even in it’s infancy, is good work. This is not a marketing startup with a thin veneer of localism painted on because it’s trendy. We’re a localism movement with a side of marketing on so we don’t have to get boring, meaningless, soul-sucking, dead end jobs. We’re participating in the movement here that is effecting true prosperity and combatting poverty and despair in our city.