Nfld. & Labrador

Local supporting local: New website aims to become hub for N.L. businesses

Ashley Fayth Vardy is transforming a frustration — not being able to find local, independent businesses — into an entrepreneurial opportunity of her own, writes Lynette Adams.

Outport NL is gathering together local and independent businesses

Ashley Fayth Vardy is passionate about helping consumers find locally made products. (Submitted by Ashley Fayth Vardy)

At a time when we are more motivated than ever to support the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador, how do we know just what's out there — or right here?

Ashley Fayth Vardy is doing the legwork to find these local businesses — and then help make them easier for customers to find, too.

Her plan is to make her new web platform Outport NL the go-to hub for people searching for local products and services based here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

For now, she is signing up local and independent businesses, and plans to launch a full searchable platform in October.

Outport NL plans to launch a Local Living online magazine this month, along with a list of participating businesses.

Local is in season

As of December, Statistics Canada reported more there were more than 13,000 businesses with fewer than 20 employees in Newfoundland and Labrador, the vast majority of which had fewer than five.

From extreme winter weather to the current worldwide pandemic, 2020 has tested the limits of these small businesses.

As we approach the end of summer and the season of the "staycation," many small businesses are seeking new strategies to keep their operations viable and visible to consumers.

For the 2020 kayaking season, Bobby Gorman, owner and operator of Rock Adventures Kayak Tours, had planned to hire two new guides.

Instead, he finds himself working solo for his third year in business.

"Any marketing that you can get, you take," he says of the trial period offered to early registrants with Outport NL.

The platform offers a choice between two paid subscription tiers for businesses: a basic $75 annual fee, or a $25 annual fee for businesses willing to offer a customer discount.

Making local more accessible

According to Vardy, the idea arose from her search for Mother's Day presents this past spring, and concerns about shipping delays due to COVID-19.

From her home on Random Island, the decision to shop locally shifted from a matter of personal values to a question of efficiency and reliability.

As she searched online, she discovered that while there are some directories that address certain market niches, "there's nothing that is there to help small businesses in St. John's, and particularly in outport Newfoundland — there's no one place that you can easily go and look for stuff."

Jennifer McKenzie of Looper's Luffs is enthusiastic about the project, both as a small business owner and as a consumer.

"There have been times I've ordered online," she said, "but found out after the fact someone here [in the province] provides the same thing."

Based in Deer Lake, she hand-sews grow-with-me clothing for infants and children, as well as reusable cleaning and personal hygiene products.

"I love that you can find Newfoundland businesses together on the same website," she said.

Local sources, local values

In addition to using the searchable directory of businesses free of charge, consumers have the opportunity to purchase a membership card that entitles them to discounts with participating businesses.

Environmentally responsible companies can feature the Eco Badge on their profile, an easy way to signal their eco-friendly practices to customers.

The platform will also include Living Local, an online magazine featuring articles on such topics as cooking with seasonal local ingredients, hiking trails around the province, and other aspects of the province's lifestyle and culture.

For Meghan Fahey of St. John's, the "shop local" messaging is a perfect fit for her business, Driven to Ink.

"I love that [the website] aims to create a comprehensive list of businesses provincewide," says the maker of handmade cards featuring N.L.-inspired images and sayings.

"It's important for people to know that they have access to so many products and services in their own backyards."

#LocalSupportingLocal

Vardy's first move in creating the brand was to establish Outport NL on Instagram, highlighting images from local businesses under the hashtag #localsupportinglocal.

As of early August, the account had gathered more than 1,000 followers.

In addition to her online activity, Vardy has been taking an analog approach. She's visiting and calling businesses that may not yet have an online presence of their own, "trying to make all these tiny independent businesses that are doing incredible work a little bit more accessible."

How big should a business be to register? Vardy says she welcomes larger local businesses with well-established web presences, but she hopes smaller businesses will see Outport NL as a means of extending their customer base as well, "be it as a dog walker, a hobbyist, knitter, web designer, even if it is something that you only do part time."

Businesses can register online, but Vardy says she is developing a paper registration form for business owners who prefer not to submit their information via the web.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lynette Adams is a freelance writer based in St. John's.

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