Ann Arbor Entrepreneur Uses Local Deals to Launch Business During COVID
Prior to the pandemic, Ann Arbor, MI resident Rita Shelley had successfully run a consulting firm for early start-up companies. But when COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, work became hard to come by. That’s when Rita decided to lean into her extensive marketing background and do something she always wanted to do - start her very own company. Enter Cheeky Spices.
Bringing the business online and leveraging Nextdoor Local Deals
Because of a health ailment, heavily spiced dishes like those found in Thai, Indian, and Mexican cuisines - some of Rita’s favorites - were no longer an option for her diet. Refusing to eat food that “tasted like cardboard,” Rita started to mix her own spice blends “made with quality, non-GMO ingredients.” She named the blends Lady Liberty, The Herbalist, and The Silk Road.
Rita shared her unique mixes with friends and family who all thought they were a hit!
When Rita decided to make her business official and open an online shop, she also turned to Nextdoor to build brand awareness among her community and get the word out about her spices. Now, 10% of her business comes through Nextdoor advertising with Local Deals.
“Nextdoor has been such an amazing blessing because you’re reaching people who live in the neighborhood. You’re engaging as a business and as a neighbor. This is what’s unique about Nextdoor. It’s not overcrowded and people are looking for local brands to give the support they need. It’s the entrepreneur’s dream if your initial strategy is to reach local customers.”
Local Deals not only drive an increase in traffic to the Cheeky Spices website, but the deals also drive purchases. In fact, it’s Rita’s highest converting advertising tool. She sees “lots of uses of the coupon featured on the Nextdoor deal.”
As a fairly new company, Rita counts any engagement from a neighbor- whether it’s a like, comment, DM, share, website visit - as a success. For her, it’s all about building relationships with her customers. If an interaction helps foster that, she counts it as a win.
Rita also provided some tactical advice for other businesses looking to reach their neighbors and turn them into customers.
Getting the messaging right: Know your demographic
Rita’s biggest piece of advice is to know your audience demographics. She avoids using the same ad for each ZIP code she targets and changes up the messaging so it resonates with the people who live in those neighborhoods. For example, she emphasizes health benefits and the allergen-free nature of her spices when she’s advertising to neighborhoods with families. When it’s a younger neighborhood with university students, she emphasizes great taste and supporting local businesses.
“Being a neighbor helps you understand the local demographic. You have to know who your audience is, and that comes with living in proximity.”
Everyone wins: Working to support other local businesses
Rita’s rapid online success opened up doors for her to sell her spices in local markets. Right now, her products are available in 15 physical stores across Michigan. Rita is a firm believer in partnering with local businesses so, for her, it’s not just a win for her business, it’s a win for her community.
“What I see happening a lot with the digital footprint is that people will say, ‘Oh this is lovely. Where do you sell?’ In this environment, especially in a COVID environment with a strong push for buying local, people prefer to buy in local stores. While there is a strong preference for buying online, there’s also a strong preference for buying in local stores to know those businesses are supported. It’s a double blessing.”
With a year like 2020 and the constant changes that come with living through a pandemic, Rita managed to launch her small business by leaning into both digital and in-person strategies. But at the heart of it, Rita’s community is what helped Cheeky Spices become the successful business it is today.