The Towni Shop, At Your Service

In the past few weeks, we’ve taken our local-offers-collecting habit up a notch.ScreenHunter_18 Nov. 14 09.23

Being webby, techy, online internet guys, we knew Towni had to be built as a self-service product. We’ve been on the other end before, as business operators trying to maximize our presence within the local community. When you have to rely on someone else to handle your ad creation, administration and execution, you’re subject to their time delays, and the cost of their labor. So, the Towni Shop was engineered to give you as a merchant the ability to log-in at any ol’ time you please, and create one (or many) deals right on the spot.

Gas AttendantKind of like gas stations, right? In Pennsylvania, you have the joy of pumping your own gas. In Jersey? An attendant handles that for you. So what about combining them and giving our posting merchants the best of both world?

That’s just what we’ve done. We’re now offering a “concierge” service of sorts. Simply tell us your promotion/special/deal/what have you, and we’ll take it from there. Email us, call us, text us, or send a courier on a bike with an old-timey newsie cap – whatever you please. Since we’ve begun this new tact, we’re now regularly posting offerings from about a dozen new Moorestown stores!

So value your time, and if you’re day is beyond hectic and involves running a business, marketing that business, and oh yeah, picking up your kids early today so they make it to soccer practice, we hope we’ve lowered the hurdle for at least one of those.

EVENT! We’re Hosting a ‘Shift Your Shopping’ Webinar, Tuesday, 10/29

 Local First Webinar Series

The awesome organization BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) is teeming with terrific content about the how’s and why’s of the localism movement. So when we heard they were offering a free webinar called “Shift Your Shopping” – a discussion on how this holiday season should be our impetus to shift our shopping dollars to local businesses – it sparked an idea in our minds. Let’s have a viewing party!

Calls to the Moorestown Library, Sustainable Moorestown, and the Moorestown Business Association later, and it was all set! This coming Tuesday, October 29th at 12:30 pm, in the library’s Meeting Room, the Towni fellas will moderate a live viewing party of this informative roundtable. The event is presented by Sustainable Moorestown – our community’s leading organization that promotes environmental education and sustainable economic growth. They were a natural partner to help spread the word (full disclosure – a Towni co-founder serves on the committee). Meanwhile, the Moorestown Business Association graciously offered to help promote.

We’ll convene at 12:30 pm, some quick introductions, and kick off the webinar promptly at 1:00 pm.

From BALLE’s website:

“Join over 150 business networks and 40,000 locally owned businesses for the third annual grassroots holiday Buy Local campaign, Shift Your Shopping, led by our partners at the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA).  This webinar covers everything you need to know about how to run a successful Shift Your Shopping campaign; from resources to success stories, templates to tips, learn about how SYS can help YOU highlight local innovation and promotes independent businesses in your community this holiday season.”

If you’re reading this before the 29th, please join us! You’ll send a message to us and the community at large that our message is getting through, and we can all take in this valuable education together. (If you’re reading this after the 29th, can you believe the Towni guys both dressed up as town founder Thomas Moore and his wife Elizabeth, right down to the period costumery?? It was awkward, but…props for being historically accurate.)

Larger view

I don’t know, I think we look good.

Rapid Fire Updates….GO!

Well it’s been too long since we’ve taken to the blog, but boy oh boy, there’s a lot of motion happening in the Townisphere. Here’s the bullet-point countdown of what the last six weeks have meant to our shiny new startup:

 

1. Edgar Real Estate Jumps Aboard the Towni Council!

edgar_long@2xWe’re so pleased, pumped and proud to announce our sponsoring partnership with a Main Street staple here in Moorestown, Edgar Real Estate. They’re 90 years old, we’re about 90 days old. It’s a connection that was meant to be! As one of our three Towni Council members (shoutout to Stevens Real Estate and CVENNELL Creations!), you’ll see the Edgar logo at the bottom of every page on the Towni Shop – a constant reminder to our users that a certain property-slingin’ powerhouse sees a lot of value in the shop local wizardry that we call Towni! Thanks, guys!

2. GRAND REVEAL – The Towni Fund is About to Get Inaugurated!

MAMOCF-Heel for Teal GraphicYes, if you’re a regular reader of our blog, first of all your name is probably “Mom”, but second of all, you’re learning before anyone else: we’ll be launching a Towni Fund campaign in a matter of hours! We’re super happy to be engaging with the Mary Anne Mazanec Ovarian Cancer Foundation for their upcoming benefit, the Heel for Teal Dog Walk! An awesome event for a most worthy of causes! Tom Mazanec has graciously teamed with Towni to provide the registration for the October 5th event. It’ll take place at Memorial Park in Cinnaminson (on Lenola just before you get to Rt. 130). Stay tuned to the Towni Fund for more details!

3. Forget Stock Photography – Upload Your Own Images!

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This one’s for the brave merchants out there providing services of all varieties. The Towni Shop, our free promotion platform, just got a little more customizable. As you surely know already, the Towni Shop is free for in-town stores to post their special, announce promotions, or even run flash sales right through the site. But it was challenging for our merchants to find images to represent their offering from stock photos. You know the kind – where a family of models holds a contrived laugh just long enough for the high-quality photo to be snapped, helping to sell…insurance. Sure, it’ll come in handy for some users, but others will need the ability to show their precise inventory. We rolled out our Image Uploader a week ago – you can now select any image from your computer, or Facebook, or Flickr, or a ton of other services. Post as you please!

 

 

 

 

4. Our Name on the Glass! Our Name on the Glass!

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Any startup gets a chill up their spine when their branding makes the leap from on-screen logo to on-storefront art! Our offices on New Albany got the treatment just the other day. Whatcha think?

 

 

 

5. How Cool is the new Town Hall Complex?!

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Okay, Towni didn’t really have a hand in conceiving or building the in-progress Town Hall and Library building at the corner of Second and Church. But we’re keeping a close eye on it! It now stands tall as it gets its brick facade. Almost ready for prime-time. We at Towni expect to pay a lot of late fines in this building…yes, a lot of late fines indeed.

We’ll try to throw you some more updates soon, without letting six weeks disappear. Much is happening, and much is on the horizon.

Towni Makes a Visit to the Makers – NextFab Studio in Philadelphia

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Part of the process of localizing an economy involves bringing the manufacturing operations out of the goliath-scaled factories, and into regions where community members can actually get involved. We had the opportunity to visit a facility where exactly that is happening.

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At 20th and Washington in South Philly is an unassuming storefront that, from the looks of the exterior, could house a traditional textiles company, or a flooring business or any other unremarkable industrial operation. But inside is NextFab – a cross between a high-tech workshop, a classroom and a tinkerer’s laboratory. The result is a playground for people with ideas.

NextFab12

Huge machines are everywhere. But unlike normal factories, NextFab’s environment is intended to be hands-on. Several small businesses operate out of the building, but the space is typically used a collaborative co-working facility – individuals or teams can rent access to the place on a monthly, daily or hourly basis, and make use of many of the industrial-scale machinery for their own projects.

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Some of the equipment is what you’d find in a high-school woodshop class. Some cut and bend steel. Some of them shoot laserbeams. Yes, frickin’ laserbeams.

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Then there’s an entire electronics lab. If you’ve been meaning to wire up a circuit board but just can’t get the soldering right on that workbench in your basement, this is the place for you.

NextFab13 NextFab9

Classes were in full effect during our visit. A unique blending of software and hardware under one roof means students can experiment with any phase of the building process – from idea creation to prototyping to actual production.

NextFab7

NextFab is tapping into a community of “makers”. This is the new breed of engineers, that take a drawing on a piece of paper and turn it into a thing you can hold, use and appreciate. What happens in between is basically what happens at NextFab.

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What were we doing there, by the way? Well, the machines below intrigued us. They’re 3D printers – tiny factories in a box. They take a substance (think of it as melted plastic), and layer by layer, build out a 3D…thing. It allows for a new a new level of accessibility in the manufacturing process. This system doesn’t require tens of thousands of dollars dedicated to steel molds – it’s a simple as using a desktop computer, and ideas are brought to life.

NextFab4 NextFab3

But we weren’t here just to see the 3D printers, shiny as they are. We have an idea or two we’re playing with and if we told you any more, we’d have to very politely request that you didn’t tell anyone. Here’s the part where we ask you to stay tuned for an indeterminate amount of time when finally we’ll reveal our Hyperloop Regeneration Capacitor. Annnd we’ve said too much.

Word Up: Moorestown’s Linguistic Legacy Over the Centuries

Some people hear our name – Towni Localistics – and wonder what in tarnation “Localistics” means? Sometimes I’ll tell them it’s the plural of “localistic”, but that typically irks people and makes their face scrunch up in a mix of confusion and contempt. Rough crowd.

Fine, what is it, then? Is it a combination of “local” and “analytics”? “Local” and “statistics”? “Low”, “calorie”, “chip”, “sticks”? No, that would be localchistics.

The official Towni stance on the matter is a defiant “no comment!”, but let’s pretend for a hot minute it has something to do with taking an analytic approach toward the data that underlies local communities. Fair?

With that definition in mind, we took on a fun little exercise. We evaluated our hometown – Moorestown, New Jersey – using Google’s awesome tool called Ngram Viewer. It’s free to use (here), and it will output a graph showing the frequency that the word or phrase has been used over time in literature.

First up – Moorestown.

Ngram-Moorestown

So…what does it mean? Google’s supercomputers scan essentially every published book, and we see that the word “Moorestown” appears with a frequency of about 0.00022% (as of 2008). That’s once every 45 million words. Compare it with the word “town”, which appears once every 10,000 words, or the phrase “useless info”, which appears every 3 billion words, including, for reasons unknown, this sentence.

What really matters in this analysis isn’t the raw numbers, but the trends over time. Why did the word Moorestown spike in the 1830s? Was it because the area had been previously known as Chester Township, and during that timeframe began being referenced as its current name? Why the spike in the mid 1880s? Was it the publication of the seminal book by James Purdy, Moorestown Old and New: A Local Sketch, and the notoriety it brought the community? What explains the 1920, 1930 and 1940 peaks? The late 50s peak? The precipitous drop off in 1965?

To continue the exercise, let’s look at another word that Moorestonians know well: “Nipper”.

Ngram-Nipper

We see the high frequency era – 1880 to 1920 – coinciding with the rise of the Victor Talking Machine Company, whom the mascot dog represented, as well as its fall in the 1910s as electronic recording took over. Thanks a lot, Edison. Was the rise in the 1990s due to a burst of nostalgia – the same sentiment that spawned the Moorestown-based art installation which bred thirty 5-foot tall fiberglass recreations of the iconic pup?

Let’s do some branding detective work. What about the word “Towni” itself? Certainly this won’t appear until, say, 2011, when we coined it, right? And it won’t peak until around 2016 (spoiler alert), right?

Ngram-towni

Wait – what the nipper?! What’s with the 1820s jump? Was there a “Ye Old Towni” that we’re not aware of? That website must have been so old-fashioned. Like, AOL dial-up old-fashioned! (Note to self – great takedown.)

Well one day I’ll get to the bottom of that 188 year old mystery, but until then, let’s look at one of the missions that Towni as a business embodies: the phrase “shop local”.

Ngram-shoplocal

Now we’re talking. One could write a book solely on the meaning behind this chart (which, ironically would influence the chart itself, which makes my brain hurt to think about). What do the ups and downs of this graph say about our American culture? We see spikes in the lead up to both World Wars. We see a rise throughout the 1970s as the concept of resource shortages reached the mainstream mindset. As globalization kicked in throughout the 1980s, the movement disintegrated, rising once more in the recession of the early 1990s. Another dropoff as the Web 1.0 came to prominence (probably encouraging remote buying for the first time on a grand scale), bottoming out with the dotcom bust in 2000.

The steady progression upward since 2000 is a pretty remarkable thing. Google’s data only takes us up to 2008, and one must wonder what this recent recessionary period has done to those two critical words, “shop local”.

The words we use reflect back on us in ways we can’t really appreciate except when viewed from afar and over grand timelines. Part of Towni’s overarching goal is to take that kind of data – spread throughout libraries, buried in town halls and permeating the internet – and assemble it, reproduce it and present it to a community in a way that makes sense. Is that what “localistics” means? Our response:

Ngram-nocomment

Don’t Just Shop Towni – Shop Burlington County First

Donnelly-ShopLocal

This is what local economy leadership looks like. Is it as glamorous as you pictured?

Yes, there’s a killer initiative that’s on the way (and for the time being, it has nothing to do with Towni).

Our efforts to make the residents of Moorestown and the surrounding communities expert local shoppers is about to be majorly boosted. Our county leaders – the five Freeholders (you know these folks, right?) -  are introducing a new program in the area. It’s called “Shop Burlington County First“.

ScreenHunter_26 Jul. 10 14.32

Very simply – it asks that we as consumers make a conscious choice, and even a pledge – to redirect some of our spending away from the behemoth multinationals and toward our independent shops right here in the area. By default, that makes us not just consumers, but smart, thoughtful and effective consumers.

Quick stat – if each household were able to shift just $20 a month more to a local business, we’d inject $40 million into the county’s economy. That’s huge. What that also means? Jobs, tax relief, and a generally increased quality of life.

Here’s a little about the program:

  •  local businesses can add themselves into the directory (they must belong to a business association – Moorestown, Mount Holly, Maple Shade and Bordentown thus far are on board, or else members of the Burlington County Chamber of Commerce are welcome to join as well).
  • BurlCo Bucks! We’ll be able to buy pre-loaded cards in $10 or $25 increments. They’ll be usable at all businesses that are participating in the program.
  • stores can issue loyalty rewards to thank shoppers for keepin’ it local
  • we as residents and smart shoppers are invited to pledge that we’ll be ambassadors of the shop local movement! Sign the pledge here.
  • more info here: www.shopburlingtoncounty.com

It’s a pretty awesome move on the part of our elected officials. Last night, Freeholder-Director Joseph Donnelly offered up some info to a roomful of officials from local business associations, in collaboration with Kristi Howell-Ikeda, President of the Burlington County Chamber of Commerce, and Mark Remsa, the Burlington County Bridge Commission‘s Director of Economic Development and Regional Planning. There was an overall very possible vibe about this potential of it all, and I for one am ready for the ball to get rolling!

BCBridgesChamberCounty

You three get a high five.

Towni‘s overarching mission aligns so well with this campaign. We’re really excited to be pushing for the very same benefits, in the very same geography and at the very same time. We hope we can be a supplemental force to really spread the word about this initiative and educate some people on the major impact of doing your buying right in your backyard.

We’ll keep you posted as the program rolls out. Don’t expect every pic to be framed, but for the moment, it’s something worth honoring.

Towni’s Modest Start, Major Potential and Possible Intergalactic Colonization

AMIBA-Independents-Week-GraphicMan. Edison was right – launching a two-sided web-based marketplace that incorporates self-service e-commerce and crowdfunding really is challenging. I dunno, he said something like that.

We’ve been running around, spitting our Towni game to anyone who will listen for a couple weeks now. It’s a mixed bag. The so-so news: when they hear about it, some folks are confused as to specifically what our application does. The great news: once they see it – once they bounce around our website and realize the massive potential of a dedicated community-boosting website – their eyes light up and their brainbox fills with exciting ideas. We’re seeing it every single day.

We’ve had some well-established businesses give Towni a shot – including Happy Hippo, Caryn Max Salon West, the Moorestown Running Company, Crescent Moon Clothing and Bacio Catering. We are so thankful for their digital bravery. We have many more in-town retailers that are excited to give it a try.

Meanwhile, our Towni Fund launch fundraiser is still churnin’. We’re halfway through, and up to $2909 – not quite on pace for our goal of $12,000, but the amount of support shown to us thus far really indicates a demand for this service, and a thoughtful support that shows this community really deserves the boost Towni hopes to give it!

ScreenHunter_01 Jun. 15 10.55

Whoever gets us over the $3000 mark gets an incredibly aggressive hug (but, you know, it’s optional).

We’re also gearing up for the first week of July. The Fourth of July will always be the leading man, but there’s a strong, up-and-coming supporting role in Independents Week – a nationwide campaign facilitated by AMIBA (American Independent Business Association). It’s a 7-day come-on-everyone-shop-local-for-goodness-sake…fest. How does it coalesce with America’s symbolic holiday? Supporting local stores helps strengthen the very town it’s in. And if every town in America did that, and each local economy grew proportionately, this nation would be bolstered right at its foundation, and we can then devote some funds to building that space elevator I’m always going on about. So yeah, America rules, shopping local rules, and using carbon nano-tubes to carry a payload into low orbit rules. I digress.

TowniSpaceElevators

How much would it costs to sponsor the space elevator? May we borrow that amount?

Back to telling people about Towni. I’m gonna leave out the space elevator pitch for now.

 

 

 

 

On June 1st, We Up and Launched Towni

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L to R: Bill Toffel, our lead developer; John Shields, co-founder; Chris Sciolla, co-founder; and then just some huge bicep

If you go to shop.towni.us, you no longer see a yellow triangle featuring the silhouette of a construction worker using a drill. You see the Towni Shop – Moorestown’s premiere shopping local website we’ve been working on since what feels like the late 80s. It looks like this:

HomePageLaunchDay

Yes, on June 1st, Chris and I attended the 37th Annual Moorestown Day. We got there bright and early, set up our tent, blew up some balloons, hung the banner…the whole deal. It was hot out – 112 degrees Fahrenheit, as I’ll tell the story many years later. But we stuck it out, and answered more questions about the pronunciation of our name than what our service is all about. I imagine “Apple” didn’t have to worry about that question too much.

We were excited to make many new contacts, see a steady stream of familiar ones, and actually had a pretty awesome time. To show our community spirit, Chris donned a yellow “Event Staff” vest and directed the 7 AM traffic. He looked nothing short of silly, and I wish someone got a pict–oh wait, you know what, I think I did.

ChrisVestMoorestownDay

I directed the 4 PM exiting traffic, but sadly no cameras were around to bear witness.

Well just because June 1st is here and gone, doesn’t mean our mission is complete. It’s only just beginning. We have lots of work to do to make this thing flawless or darn near, and we may go hoarse spreading the word to every dissatisfied merchant looking for ways to reach their target crowd, every resident who realizes our town is stronger when we patronize those within our own borders, and every do-gooder with a dream that wants to take on a project and needs the community’s backing. Those are Towni’s prime ambitions, to address those concerns.

Some more eye candy from our big day:

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Local Bear Pathetically Applying For Towni Mascot Gig

The Mount Laurel Police Department kindly sends residents updates when anything noteworthy happens in town. Down wires causing one-lane traffic on Church between Country Lane and Ramblewood? The PD diligently texts every homeowner to keep them informed (I like the mental image of thirty cops sitting around, each with a list of hundreds of phone numbers assigned to them; it’s a cute idea, but ugh, the overtime!)

Yesterday I got this: BearEmail1

Knowing that to be approximately behind my house, I had a sudden sense of “wait, a BEAR?!” Chris and I were safely at the office 4 miles north, so this news merely led to many poorly-executed puns about honey and Goldilocks and I think I even said something about the Cubs being in town to play the Phillies. All unfunny, all predictable.

But it was all legit, too. A friend’s friend’s mom snapped this:
beareditedWith just 5 days until Towni presses the “On” button on our metaphorical machine, now I have to worry about an American black bear (Ursus americanus) eating my dogs and messing with my already-needing-to-be-replaced bird feeder. We have promotional materials still to create, rigorous testing underway – and a twelve-foot-tall rabid grizzly with nothing to lose is going Godzilla through town. I mean, basically.
BearTalk
A couple hours later:
BearEmail2

Yeah, that’s what I thought. Movin’ on. Poor guy’s gotta miss his family. Probably just wants to get home and watch the new season of Arrested Development on Netflix like everyone else.

I felt safe again, knowing I could get back to the business of building a world-class community-supporting application for the 15 square miles where I spent my youth.

But peace was short-lived. This morning, I woke to find:

BearEmail3
KinderCare, of all places. A daycare center for our community’s sweet, innocent kinders. But worse – that’s three doors down. For all I know, the bear strolled right through my backyard, fished through my trash cans, set up my bean bag game and neatly put it away, before heading to the next house to de-humanize them, too.

Look, bear. No amount of intimidation is going to slow down the Towni train. We’ll be at Booth 7, right in front of Happy Hippo, on June 1st for the 37th Annual Moorestown Day whether you like it or not. Let me guess, you only shop Big Box? You don’t think the independently-owned merchants deserve a dedicated platform to get their services in front of town residents?

Typical bear. Until then, I’ve asked Olivia, our ten-year old pug to stand guard. She’s no threat to win a doggie IQ test, but she sure is brave.
BearOlivia

Best 11-Days-Until-Launch Work Ethic, Bar None

No, it's cool. They have wifi.

No, it’s cool. They have wifi.

With launch less than two weeks away, you might say that Chris and I are in the zone. Or you can say our work has entered a state of zen-like “flow”. Or you could say both the quality and quantity of our work output makes Elon Musk look like a lackadaisical beach bum.

Okay, with that said, yes, this past Sunday we brought our office to the bar. We go there from time to time to help them test their, you know, beer-serving systems. It’s actually a pretty predictable scene:

  • We walk in, are politely welcomed by a fresh-faced hostess, but stroll right past said hostess and make a bee-line for the largest unbroken string of bar stools and plant ourselves in the mathematical center.
  • “Hey guys,” says a not-particularly-shocked-to-see-us Courtney, Lauren, Lauren, Nikki, Lisa, Maria, Erin, Boomer or Brian. We’re offered beers (check) and food menus (check).
  • Food menus arrive, are immediately flipped over, displaying a gloriously blank canvas primed for the most ridiculous ideas ever to be scrawled.
  • Commence list-making, site-mapping, wireframe-sketching and occasional beer-spilling.

I heard it’s exactly how Edison operated.

For the record, that’s Chris experimenting with AngularJS in an effort to solve a top-level cross-property navigation enigma we’ve been working on for months. I’m accumulating database fields and data points for the interactive map application. Which all probably sounds impressive, but I assure you PhotoHunt is just out of frame and may have – if memory serves – gotten a fair bit of use.