Although many of us want to support local businesses, lockdowns and travel rules mean there’s been less of a chance to get out there and visit our nearby high streets.
It can be hard to find smaller companies online, and when it comes to Christmas in particular, we might end up just going for the easiest option – which usually ends up being Amazon or another major conglomerate.
That’s why Jonathan Sandals created Sook, a plugin you download for your web browser that shows you alternative items made by businesses near you.
39-year-old Jonathan previously worked in branded content, e-commerce, and marketing for AskMen in Montreal for 12 years, before making some money from Bitcoin in 2017 and deciding to take a bit of time off the daily grind.
He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘After traveling for a year, I landed in Seattle as one of my old clients was here.
‘As I was coming to the city with fresh eyes, I really appreciated how essential the small businesses were to the character and culture were of my new town.
‘In speaking with the store-owners in my new neighbourhood, I came to realise that despite small businesses being able to set up online stores, the process of connecting consumers to them was broken.
‘Some store owners said they had their stores up for three years and only sold 9 things. Other businesses said they shut their online stores down altogether as it wasn’t worth it.’
Jonathan realised that his expertise could help these owners, who all knew how to make great products, but couldn’t compete with the marketing budgets of the big players.
‘As someone who did want to shop local, I went through what an ideal process would be if I wanted to buy a jacket,’ he says.
‘This led me to the idea that I needed to pool together all the products available in my community and allow people to shop them by product type. That way I could shop 20 small businesses at once instead of visiting them one by one.’
Thinking about how best to go with this, he thought an extension would be best – showing people alternatives as they did their regular shopping.
Jonathan also saw that small business owners didn’t have the time to manage another piece of tech, so did the research and added the business himself.
He says: ‘For every city I wanted to launch Sook in, I researched the best small businesses in that city and uploaded their stores and products without them ever having to do anything. It’s sort of like Google. Google doesn’t go to each website one by one asking it if it wants to be onboarded.
‘We’ve only had 1 store out of 750+ ask to be removed and it was because they were a vintage shop and only carried one of each item.’
Sook was approved by Google in late August this year, and despite having not spent any money on paid marketing, they’ve passed their expected user amount at this time by 300%.
Jonathan adds: ‘We have been the most popular article in every local paper that’s covered us, in Seattle, Portland and Toronto for example. We’ve made it to the homepage of Reddit over five times in different SubReddits, from tech to fashion to news. They were also featured in the New York Times.
With this in mind, Jonathan says, ‘It’s become more than apparent that the demand for a convenient way to buy a great product five miles down the road instead of a mediocre product 5,000 miles away has existed for some time.’
At present, Sook is only available in America, but the company are planning to launch in the UK over the festive season.
As well as this, they’ll be adding more categories, launching a mobile app, and starting to allow small businesses to add their products directly to the plugin.
In a world pretty much governed by sites like Amazon, something that takes the work out of supporting independent business is extremely useful.
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