Local entrepreneurs roll out platforms to help struggling makers, retailers

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Local entrepreneurs are exploring different ways to help out an in-demand niche market: makers and retailers that want to continue selling their goods while their customers stay at home.

In response to recent event postponements and the stay-at-home order, Meredith Waguespack and Sarah Guidry have launched a virtual marketplace—LocalPopUp.Shop—where Louisiana makers can showcase inventories of the goods they had created for the typically high revenue-generating upcoming spring and festival seasons. 

The website is essentially a virtual extension of Local Pop Up Shop, created by Waguespack and Guidry in late 2018, which hosts an annual Holiday Shopping Pop-Up Marketplace in Perkins Rowe that features products from more than 50 pop-up retailers and other Louisiana makers—all of whom the two women want to help keep financially afloat during this time.

“A lot of these local makers don’t even have an online presence. We wanted to be able to create a space where they can showcase their work since they won’t be making money from the Blues Festival, Mid City Makers Market or Festival Louisiane this spring,” Waguespack says. “The website is like an Etsy page, but for Louisiana.”

All products ordered on LocalPopUp.Shop will be shipped directly from the maker, says Waguespack. Each artisan has the ability to curate their page on the website to reflect their current inventory. The website is offering customers free shipping on all goods through the end of April.

So far, more than 30 makers have joined the platform, and Waguespack hopes it will attract even more.

“To my knowledge, there isn’t anything else like this in Louisiana yet,” she says. “I don’t think this changes anything for the pop-up industry [long-term], but we just have to get a grasp of what’s going on right now.”

While LocalPopUp.Shop is primarily focused on makers of handmade goods, Mike Ross aims to attract a variety of local boutiques and other brick-and-mortar retailers through his software program, StreamShopper, as he works to add back stores that had previously signed onto the service before they were forced to temporarily shut down. 

StreamShopper allows stores to assist customers by live video. A customer can shop from their cellphone or computer at home while also “shopping” through a store in real-time, with a salesperson able to take customers on a tour of the entire store, answer their questions, show them products and check them out digitally. Though initially created for the women’s apparel industry, Ross says the service lends itself to serve any merchant. Travis Ltd. is currently using the platform in Baton Rouge.

“It allows retailers to show customers more merchandise than they would market online, and stores need the sales volume,” Ross says, recommending just one salesperson be on staff to abide by social distancing rules. “Also, the stores themselves want to be able to have salespeople, so we’re putting those people back to work.”

Read more stories about how the coronavirus is impacting the Baton Rouge business community.

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