116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
‘We’ve sold to customers in 46 states,’ Cedar Rapids Marketplace’s Cherie Edilson says
Running her own small business led Cherie Edilson to build a way to help similar independent businesses nationwide.
Starting in January 2012, Edilson made and sold hair bows and accessories through her Pink Barrette brand. Selling at area farmers and craft markets and via Amazon.com, Pink Barrette specialized in school fundraisers, so a 2016 holiday craft fair in Marion seemed routine — until a snowstorm hit.
“It lasted three hours and just nobody came through the door,” Edilson recalled recently.
So she called her husband, Robert, and told him to bring their four children to the event.
“We went around to all the different businesses (booths) and they were amazing,” she said. “We left there and thought, is there any way we can help?”
That led to what became Cedar Rapids Marketplace, launched by Edilson just a few months later, in February 2017. The e-commerce platform became the model for Member Marketplace Inc., rolled out in April 2018 to connect small businesses, their community partners and customers with an interest in those towns and cities.
From four communities its first year, Member Marketplace currently maintains its local small-business sites in 34 communities across 18 states.
“We have three new states on the horizon, hopefully in the next month,” Edilson said. “It’s a goal of mine to get to all 50 states.”
Edilson started Pink Barrette as a work-from-home project after she and her family moved back to her hometown from San Diego, where her husband had been stationed in the Navy. As work began on Member Marketplace, she turned that business over to a niece who’d helped out.
“I leaned a lot from it, I learned online commerce,” she said. “Amazon gave us a free month, and we sold really well through there.
“As this new business grew I felt like I wanted to give it to someone else.”
Her husband’s web development experience helped her flesh out the idea, but NewBo Co’s Iowa Startup Accelerator played a key role, too. Edilson was one of ISA’s earliest participants, in spring 2018.
“We were just a small business, just trying to see if we could build up something,” she said. “I think on the first day of the Startup Accelerator, I went in. Everybody else had a laptop, I had a notepad.”
ISA’s advice and assistance was “huge” for Member Marketplace, Edilson said.
“It transitioned our business from a ‘small business’ to a ‘start-up,’” she wrote in an email. “It also introduced us to connections and mentors that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise. I can say that we likely wouldn't be where we are today without them.”
ISA helped Edilson devise and refine a strategy for identifying and approaching new prospects for Member Marketplace. Local and regional chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and business associations often are the first point of contact.
“They disseminate it down to their members,” she said. “That’s the factor when we’re trying to do it from afar — there’s a lot of resources for small businesses, and they’re not sure who to trust.”
Member Marketplace builds trust through its services supporting small businesses often making their first foray into the online marketplace. She estimated only about a third of new members have their own website.
“When they’re new to e-commerce, they don’t really know what to do,” Edilson said. “We have structured the platform for them, It’s easy to set up. They can also call in and talk to someone live.”
Those calls are handled by a staff of five who also develop tools for the site’s users.
“We have webinars they can just log into and find out what’s working with other businesses,” she said. “They can just sync in their products to our website. That makes it easy for them to attract new customers.”
Expanding those small businesses’ reach is key to Member Marketplace’s strategy. Edilson estimates up to 95 percent of sales off the Santa Fe, N.M., site, santafe.shopwhereilive.com, are from outside the state. Fewer than 2 percent of shoppers at shopiowa.com are from the communities where the businesses reside.
“We’ve sold to customers in 46 states,” Edilson said. “People are finding it through Google.”
Building on Member Marketplace’s early success means finding new ways to serve its member businesses.
“What more resources can we provide these businesses?” Edilson said. “There’s not a lot of people who are doing what we’re doing. Their counterparts in other communities are seeing what’s happening and they’re reaching out to us as well.”
Edilson will talk about her business and how she got started at the next 1 Million Cups Founder Fireside March 23, in the Geonetric building in the New Bohemian District in Cedar Rapids.
What: Cherie Edilson will be interviewed by Eric Engelmann, Iowa Startup Accelerator Ventures’s general partner, for the next Founder Fireside
When: Wednesday, March 23. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. for coffee and networking, with the program to begin at 9 a.m.
Where: Geonetric building, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids.
Registration: Go to eventbrite.com/e/269343643087. Admission is free