Frager Factor

Monday, December 24, 2012

Colin Pape Founder, ShopLocally.com / ShopCity.com — Domaining's Most Fascinating People 2012

Colin Pape, Founder, 
ShopLocally.com/ShopCity.com

In just four years, Colin Pape has accomplished something with his ShopCity.com Community Commerce Platform that many Internet entrepreneurs never achieve: He has taken his enterprise both cash flow positive and profitable. He has built a portfolio of 8,100 call-to-action “Shop(Cityname)” geo domains. And on the way, he has taken on Google to free his legitimate and valuable commercial sites from the Big G’s dungeon and placed high in the search rankings where they belong.



And so for the second time since 2010, Colin Pape, Founder of ShopCity.com and ShopLocally.com, is one of our Most Fascinating People in Domaining for 2012.


==> A VISIONARY FROM THE START

Colin has been in the Internet business since the 1990s, when as a teenager he began providing web development and hosting services. Working with small- to medium-sized enterprises made him aware of the challenges for local businesses in having a meaningful presence on the Internet. He launched his first community-based site, ShopMidland.com  (for his home town of Midland, Ontario), in 2000. He was 20.

In 2008, Colin sold his development and hosting businesses to concentrate exclusively on growing ShopCity. Today, ShopCity is live in 65 markets: 40 in the U.S. and 25 in Canada, where most of the business and product development efforts on the platform are focused. Some 2,500 local businesses in these communities now subscribe to the program’s online marketing tools, including not only a Web presence, but email marketing and assistance with Google Places, Facebook and Twitter social media platforms. “We set them up with the core profile on all those other services,” says Colin. Each ShopCity community is also promoted with signage, displays and other visual marketing materials. Have a look.

“A lot of our communities are at critical mass and are getting self-service signups,” says Colin about the organic growth that’s taking place in towns where the service has launched. In some communities, that growth is helped along by partnerships with (or local ownership or management by) the local chamber of commerce, economic development authority or newspaper that uses its ShopCity site as the destination for its own shop local branding and marketing campaign. ShopCorona.com, ShopPaloAlto.com, ShopMountainView.com, ShopBuffalo.com and ShopBirmingham.com are just a few ShopCity domains that have become official hometown shopping and small business portals.


==> SOMETHING MANY WEB ENTERPRISES LACK: ACTUAL FEET ON THE STREET

Growth in local business participation is also the result of another major development that differentiates ShopCity from other Internet ventures. “We had the opportunity to build a corporate sales team when YellowPages.ca shut down our competitor CanPages.ca,” explains Colin. “So we brought on 50 salespeople to establish a corporate sales force.”

“These are passionate people that we brought on,” he adds. To be sure of selecting only salespeople who believed in the vision and mission of ShopCity, Colin had applicants write a one-page letter on why shopping locally was important to them. Working in their home communities, mainly in Ontario and British Columbia, this totally remote, totally commissioned sales force provides ShopCity its “feet on the street” to sign up businesses to participate in the local sites that have launched. Armed with iPads and the ShopCity Affiliate app, the team enrolls businesses, builds the customers’ pages and processes everything through ShopCity’s central system.


==> SUCCESS AND POTENTIAL ATTRACTS WORLD-CLASS LEADERSHIP


Colin has recently added impressive talent at the top of the ShopCity organization as well.

For example, Roy Ellis, former head of HR for McDonald’s of Canada, has come on board as an investor, advisor and on-site mentor, with active involvement in daily operations, primarily with governance, sales, marketing, talent acquisition and human resources. How they met proves the changing dynamics of digital relationship building and the power of Colin's platform. Roy recently ran a local business himself - The Boathouse Eatery, a waterfront restaurant here in Midland, which is where Roy learned about ShopMidland.com and later ShopCity.com.

“We’re very fortunate to have Roy with us,” says Colin. “He’s very familiar with the franchise model. He worked his way up from flipping burgers to opening restaurants in Canada and Moscow, to becoming senior VP for customer experience in all of Canada.”

And even though he’s not ready to announce the name, Colin says “we’ve signed up an executive with a lot of experience in directory sales who will be taking the lead in launching our U.S. markets, building the team to sell and support local businesses full time.”

==> GETTING OFF OF GOOGLE’S BACK PAGES 


None of the developments achieved in 2012 or planned for 2013 would have been possible without ShopCity’s winning better treatment from Google in September 2011. “That was the challenge of our lives,” says Colin.

In 2009, Colin noticed that Google had pushed ShopCity sites to the fifth page of search results, where few users would ever notice them. “We’re unclear exactly why it happened originally,” says Colin. “The multiple sites did raise some flags within Google algorithms.”

After ShopCity was completely cut off from Google in July 2011, Colin said he and ShopCity’s attorney Gary Reback (who he calls “a brilliant guy, and truly a defender of free markets”) engaged in a series of communications with the search giant. Shop City also received some unsolicited free advice on improving its search performance in comments posted on Marketing Pilgrim.

“Through our efforts and Gary’s, we got Google to resolve the problems and realize that we’ve got incredibly high value and legitimate content, through our relationships with business owners, chambers and governments,” Colin says.

But Bloomberg reports Gary Reback as saying that Google allowed ShopCity sites to rank higher in searches only after the FTC issued a subpoena demanding information about Google search and advertising practices as part of the agency’s ongoing antitrust investigation. In November 2011, ShopCity filed its own antitrust complaint against Google with the FTC.

“Our FTC submission has nothing to do with a lawsuit or damages of any kind,” Colin wrote a few weeks ago on Marketing Pilgrim.  “In fact, we are taking quite a risk by filing a complaint, both with backlash from Google, and with people who defend any and every one of Google’s policies. We feel that the entire marketplace would benefit from increased transparency from the world’s most powerful company, and this complaint, requesting a formal investigation, is the way to bring that about.”


In the meantime,  thanks to improved geo-tagging by the ShopCity team and better indexing of product sub-pages in member businesses’ online storefronts, ShopCity sites are performing very well in specific, localized geographic searches. Search “restaurants palo alto” example and “Restaurants in Palo Alto @ ShopPaloAlto.com” is right there on the first page.


“We got the ranking in Palo Alto because we had college students go out and collect 200 menus and post them all. Then others starting linking to us, so we achieved the ranking organically,” says Colin.


==> A BRIGHT FUTURE


After flying under the radar the past two years, ShopCity is poised for growth and expansion.

“The past two years have given us the opportunity to get past the ‘last mile’ challenges in launching markets and signing up businesses,” Colin says. “We’ve figured it out corporately and can now demonstrate how it needs to be done. We needed to develop training and process to get people to used the entire model.”

While preparing to expand its field sales team to launch new U.S. markets in 2013, ShopCity will keep its headquarters team lean and efficient. The company currently has a full-time staff of 18.

Compared to many Internet entrepreneurs whose goal is to create a business they can sell, Colin is committed to ShopCity for the long haul. “Eventually we would like to take it public, perhaps in a few years,” he says.

One other expansion plan has Colin thinking about the future, as he and his wife Tara look forward to the arrival of their first child in March.


==> IT’S ALL ABOUT SMALL BUSINESS

ShopCity.com and ShopLocally.com are perfectly in tune with the growing shop local movement that encourages consumers to support the small businesses in their local communities. They’re so in tune with this trend that ShopLocally.com has over 19,000 “Likes” on Facebook and just a few dozen shy of 20,000 followers on Twitter. “Now that we have a core following, we can be the distribution point for the shop local movement,” Colin says. “This is cooperative marketing at its core.”

The idea is for local businesses to work together to get people thinking about shopping locally all year long, not just on “Small Business Saturday” — itself organic-sounding, but in reality a marketing concept created by American Express (with whom ShopCity partnered in San Jose).

As Colin wrote recently on his own blog: “Even if we still hit the local big box store from time-to-time, or purchase that hard-to-find item on Amazon, by thinking of our local merchants first and using online tools and resources that make it fun and easy to shop locally, we are at least aware of the options available to us and can make a conscious choice about where we invest our resources.”

Personally I have to say that in observing domaining over 15 years and seen people who amassed hundreds and thousands of names and closed millions of dollars in sales, Colin’s approach stands apart. While everyone now realizes the impossibility of mass developing thousands of domains addressing hundreds of different topics, Colin put development first then built his portfolio around that. His is the only domain investing strategy I can point to that is driven by a central idea. 

It’s a tall order, especially for a small team. Five years from now with investment in the kind of talent he is adding with special skills in replicating many from one, and feet on the street, help all 8,000 domains change the world? Half of them?

I can’t tell you but if anyone has the passion, drive and inner mission to make it happen, Colin will. Best said by his younger brother Nathan who has played a key hands-on role in the growth and viability of the business, “I have been involved in the business since the inception and am still blown away everyday by how passionate Colin is about building a platform and company which will have such a significant and positive impact on the world. I am fortunate to even be a part of something so great.” 

For helping small businesses have an effective presence on the Web, for providing them the tools to drive traffic to their sites and customers to their restaurants and stores, for giving communities a clear and memorable call-to-action theme and portal to local merchants, and for succeeding against one of the largest competitors in the world, Colin Pape is one of the Most Fascinating People in Domaining for 2012.



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About The Author: Owen Frager is an Internet marketing expert ready to help take your company to the next level.

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