You know the drill – you get a pretty invitation in the mail with a link to Amazon.com or Bed Bath and Beyond. You sit down on the couch, point, click, type in your credit card digits and wave goodbye to your hard-earned money.
But if a couple wants their friends to shop locally, well – they’ve got to travel back in time.
When I arrived at Things Are Cooking, a kitchen appliance store in Concord, I asked owner Mike Beauregard to show me how his store handles wedding registries. He handed me a pen, a clipboard and a photocopied piece of paper.
“They walk around the store and fill in the items that they see that they want,” Beauregard says. But, he adds, no more than six people use his paper registries each year. For the most part, independently owned stores like his are locked out of the gift registry industry altogether.
Beauregard is hopeful that may change. He and 84 other local business owners have paid a $150 fee to set up an online storefront on NearbyRegistry.com, a New Hampshire startup that launches this month. NearbyRegistry.com allows couples and expecting parents to create an online registry of items and services from local businesses, from which family and friends can make online purchases.
Beauregard has already sold a couple items through the website.
NearbyRegistry is the brainchild of owner and CEO, Allison Grappone. Grappone says it all started four years ago, when she got engaged. “My husband and I didn’t really want a gift registry but people asked us to create one, so we did one doing Google Docs. We asked for cross country ski passes, a used bookstore gift certificate, a CSA. It worked really great, but it was hard to use.”
Two years after that, Grappone’s idea won a $25,000 cash grant through the Manchester Young Professionals Network (MYPN) NH Startup Challenge. Now, she’s soliciting outside investors. She won’t say how much money she needs to raise, but will proudly disclose she’s one-third of the way there.
In the meantime, the ticker counter on Nearby Registry’s homepage says more than $1,300 have been “[kept] in local economies” over the last few weeks. So far, new users on the site are mostly Grappone’s friends and family.
Lindsey Jones of Seattle went to grade-school with Grappone and is getting married on the New Hampshire/Vermont border this November. “I really appreciate and value of purchasing items from local shops, and in a sustainable manner,” Jones says.
But there’s another twist to Nearby Registry, which may make it appealing even to those comfortable shopping at big box stores. As Grappone puts it, “people may not want as many consumer goods for their weddings and for their gifts.” They may want a couples yoga class, or guitar lessons: what Grappone calls “adventure and experience gifts.”
Those are services big box stores can’t sell. They are fundamentally local.
Grappone has a lot at stake as she launches NearbyRegistry this month. Her family and friends have invested their own money, there are two employees on payroll, and she’s spent the last four years – one and a half of which full-time – dedicated to her venture.
But to be profitable, Grappone will need to scale up. Her business model relies on an initial $150 joining cost and then a fee of 10 percent on every purchase, paid by the vendors.
“Several markets are interested in seeing this,” Grappone says, “Boston, also Seattle, and the state of New Jersey.”
But first, Grappone is starting with New Hampshire.
Disclaimer: NHPR employee Anna Moskov is an initial investor in NearbyRegistry.
Correction: The NH Startup Challenge is held by the Manchester Young Professionals Network, not the ABI Hub, a sponsor of the Challenge.