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Houston entrepreneur creates online marketplace to support local shops amid coronavirus crisis

For weeks, local shops were forced to stay closed and focus on online sales. One Houston entrepreneur decided to use technology to help customers support local. Getty Images

The retail industry has been hit hard due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent social distancing measures that kept customers out of stores. With retail stores reopening at 25 percent capacity, a Houston startup is helping customers find and support local independent retailers online.

Support My Local Shop is the 'Yelp" for independent retailers, giving local customers the most accurate information about store hours, allowing customers to write reviews, and support their favorite independent shops by ordering online through the store's website or buying gift cards.

"Before Support My Local Shop there wasn't a great way to find local indie retail stores around you and know exactly how to support them," says the creator of the tool, Adrianne Stone.

Stone, who is also the founder of Stockabl, the wholesale marketplace for handcrafted and independently designed goods. From her retailers, she heard of the struggles they have gone through as shops closed down to prevent the spread of the virus.

Users can find store information on the website. Screenshot via supportmylocal.shop

Support My Local Shop make it easier to order from local Houston shops by creating a platform especially for local retailers. For Stone, it has been a labor of love. Manually inputting information from store websites and creating the retailer's profile within the tool. Retailers have a chance to claim the store page and update it with the most reliable information.

For many retailers, Support My Local Shop is a great tool that customers can use to support them. Forth and Nomad — an apparel, arts, and decor store in the Heights — has become an anchor in the Houston arts and maker community.

"It's a good tool," says Andy Sommer co-founder of Forth and Nomad. "Anytime we can have anything that could point to our business and tell people about us and that wouldn't find us otherwise is very helpful."

The handmade local small-batch goods retailer does not only sell goods, they also provide a place for the community to gather, learn new skills, and support other local shops by providing retail space in their location.

Sommer's business has been able to make a fast transition into online shopping, but it has been a bumpy ride learning as they go the best practices for shipping products and the ins and outs e-commerce. With Texas reopening retail stores at limited capacity, that brings its own set of challenges.

"We're ready to continue on as is, but it is a great relief to open physically," Sommers says. "However, we need to have some sort of guidelines for the opening to make sure that we can open safely."

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this one's for the ladies

Texas named a top state for women-led startups

A new report finds that the Lone Star State is ideal for female entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Who runs the world? According to Merchant Maverick's inaugural Best States for "Women-Led Startups'' study, Texas is a great place for women to be in charge.

The Lone Star state cracked the top 10 on the list, earning a No. 6 spot according to the small business reviews and financial services company, which based the study on eight key statistics about this growing segment of the economy. Colorado (at No. 1), Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Montana were the only states to beat out Texas on the rankings—leading the Merchant Maverick team to conclude that "the part of the country that lies west of the Mississippi is great for startups led by women entrepreneurs."

Women-led startups in Texas received $365 billion in VC funding in the last five years, the report found. This is the seventh largest total among U.S. states. Too, about 20 percent of Texans are employed at woman-led firms, which is the fifth highest percentage among states. Roughly 35 percent of employers in Texas are led by women.

A few other key findings that work in female founders' favor: The startup survival rate in Texas is nearly 80 percent. And a lack of state income tax "doesn't hurt either," the report says.

Still there are shortcomings. On a per capita basis, only 1.27 percent of Texas women run their own business. The average income for self-employed women is also relatively low ranking among states, coming in around $55,907 and landing at 31st among others.

This is not the first time Texas has been lauded as a land of opportunity for women entrepreneurs. A 2019 study named it the best state for business opportunities for women. Houston too has proven to support success for the demographic. The Bayou City was named in separate studies a best city for female entrepreneurs to start a business and to see it grow.

Still, as many findings have concluded, the realities of the pandemic loom for all startups and small business owners. The Merchant Maverick study was careful to add: "The pandemic has changed the economic landscape over the past year, and often for the worse.

"This means that not every metric may be able to accurately gauge how a state might fare amidst the pandemic," the report continues. "To help factor in COVID's impact, we included some metrics that take 2020 into account, but it will be a while until we get a full picture of the pandemic's devastation.""

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