Aug. 16 2018 10:21 AM

Prominent developer eyes expansion after Ohio success


Local entrepreneurs could soon push their products out to billions worldwide following what Lansing Mayor Andy Schor labeled a “perfect partnership” between eBay and the city of Lansing.

And at least one prominent developer has already eyed the deal as an avenue for continued growth.

Schor — alongside eBay officials and a full cast of state politicians —announced Friday the state capital had been recently selected by the global online auction house for the next installment of its “Retail Revival” initiative, marking the second city nationwide to test out the 12-month, business-boosting partnership.

“I’m really excited,” Schor said. “This will afford small businesses with an online presence or platform that they otherwise might not have now. It’ll allow them to market their products not only to Lansing residents but to a much wider audience around the world. I think it’s going to be a great tool. There’s a lot of potential here.”

The program is billed by eBay officials as a way for local entrepreneurs to boost their online sales, potentially merging more than 100 small businesses onto a single, Lansing-specific eBay webpage that would allow anyone around the globe to take a digital stroll through products of those companies selected to participate.

A senior vice president at eBay, Scott Cutler, said Lansing was picked from a competitive process because of the diverse landscape of local businesses, the potential for online growth and because local leadership, largely under Schor’s direction, seemed willing to offer continued support for the partnership into the future.

The city of Akron, Ohio, earlier this year was selected as the first city to participate in eBay’s initiative.

Christine Vadala, director of business development and the Downtown Akron Partnership, said 120 businesses have since signed up for the program. And their products have been flying off the shelves, reaching a wider audience than previously imagined with their standard, brick-and-mortar storefronts, she said.

Development titan Joel Testa, whose Ohio-based business ventures twice made INC Magazine’s list of fastest growing, privately held companies in the country, has already placed Lansing on his short-list for new projects. He said his business incubator concept at Northside Marketplace in Akron could easily be duplicated locally.

The newly opened urban market in Akron’s Arts District houses more than 50 retailers under one roof, many of which sell local, and Akron-specific products.

Testa said he worked “quite a bit” with eBay and they “instantly gravitated” toward the concept. He was their brickand-mortar man; eBay helped take sales to the web.

And as conceptual plans for Lansing’s embattled City Market continue to swirl, Testa has already voiced a desire to see the process duplicated in the next city to be selected by eBay for the Retail Revival initiative. He said he’s never been to Lansing but he sent an email to eBay officials on Thursday to chat about another partnership.

Cutler isn’t familiar with Testa or his developments but eBay’s senior director of global impact and giving told Crain’s Business that the company “would love to find similar concepts in our next Retail Revival city.”

“Every city that eBay targets is a logical next choice for this concept,” Testa added. “The retailers in this program — I hear about them almost daily raving about the opportunity and the experience and what it’s doing for their businesses. Everyone who fits the qualifications ought to be going after this opportunity.”

Michael Considine, owner of Akron’s Norka Food & Beverage Co. told Crain’s Business how his company sold more than $2,000 in glass-bottled soda within a month under the partnership. Most of his customers are former residents that have since left Ohio but still yearn for a taste of nostalgia back home, according to the report.

Selected businesses — at no initial cost — will be able to receive ongoing support and resources to get started and grow within the online platform with training programs, one-on-one coaching, access to a customer service team and more. Cutler said that support will be an integral part of boosting profits for local businesses.

The city bears no cost for the partnership, but participating business owners will likely need to pay eBay monthly subscription fees if they want to keep their online store operational beyond the 12-month trial period. Those fees in Akron ranged between $60 and $75 monthly and automatically renewed unless they opted out of the program.

Lansing-based businesses need to identify online sales as part of their growth strategy, offer a variety of products and demonstrate a “commitment and readiness to grow” their business. eBay also threw a promotional bone to Schor with a promise to promote Lansing through a dedicated “landing page” among other marketing efforts.

Visit ebayinc.com/Lansing for more information or to apply for the program.