The Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce has launched a multi-vendor marketplace showcasing local Muskoka retailers, artisans and other business services.
The new ShopMuskokaLakes.ca is a co-operative, online community marketplace that provides a selling platform both for vendors who had no previous online shop presence, retailers already experienced in marketing their products online, and even those not interested in selling online.
Unlike other multi-vendor platforms, such as Amazon or Etsy, ShopMuskokaLakes is built to serve the different needs and wants of local business owners. For example, an artisan can sell products using the ShopMuskokaLakes check out cart. Existing online stores can use Shop Muskoka Lakes to display their products but complete the transaction on their preferred shop platform. Custom furniture makers start conversations to achieve potential sales through a direct link from Shop Muskoka Lakes to a quotation form. Still others are selling gift certificates for their services, and some don’t want to sell online at all: they simply use Shop Muskoka Lakes as another marketing channel to display their products and drive potential customers to their brick-and-mortar stores.
“Our Chamber has always promoted shopping where you live, and like others, we ramped up our shop local campaigns when COVID hit,” says Spencer Morland, President, Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce. “But we wanted to do more. We wanted to find a tangible way to connect consumers with our local businesses that were locked down. Building this online multi-vendor marketplace helps us put a spotlight on all those in our business community who want to share in the brand power of Muskoka Lakes.”
With start-up funding provided through FedNor’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund and the Township of Muskoka Lakes, the build began in mid-January, and the site was live in Beta test form by mid-April.
“It’s been a huge and exciting undertaking,” says Chamber Executive Director Norah Fountain, who credits Chamber Communications Manager Katelyn Broad and web developer Tyler Steingard for their non-stop efforts and innovative thinking, along with the first 20 vendors who were “essentially our guinea pigs, and they’ve been incredibly patient as we navigate all the hurdles. They push us to do better, and our hope is that this project can work as a co-operative social enterprise. It may also become a model for other regions to adopt.”
Fountain adds the Chamber’s main message hasn’t changed. “When in Muskoka, we say shop our local stores in person. Our retailers can’t wait to see you again. But when you can’t be here, or we’re in lockdown, and you want to still touch, taste and live the Muskoka experience? You can Shop Muskoka Lakes, anytime, from anywhere.”
“Strong local economies rely upon the growth and prosperity of local businesses and entrepreneurs,” says the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for FedNor. “In these uncertain times, we want Canadian businesses to know that we have their back. We are proud help our business and community partners, such as the Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce, adapt to the quickly evolving social and economic realities, and support their efforts to strengthen Northern Ontario’s economy and create good jobs.”
Aside for a minimal fee to pay for advertising that benefits every market member, there is no cost for vendors to be showcased on ShopMuskokaLakes.ca. Vendors must meet certain criteria, such as location and having products that support or reflect Muskoka.
The Chamber’s Shop Muskoka Lakes Support Local community project has been made possible through funding by FedNor and the government of Canada through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) and through operational funding from the Township of Muskoka Lakes. The Chamber is also grateful for the generous support of Magnet, Lakeland Networks (which will help for the second phase of Shop Muskoka Lakes), and the Parry Sound Muskoka Community Network (PMCN). More partners are being sought to fund ongoing advertising, and to build out more offerings, such as Buy and Book local experiences. Potential vendors or sponsors can contact the Muskoka Lakes Chamber.
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