'Sow Social' helps consumers find local deals

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WALLA WALLA -- A pair of Walla Walla residents is bringing local business to the masses through a new group-buying site.

From spa packages in Dayton to carpet-cleaning services in Walla Walla, online business Sow Social is giving a local focus to the latest consumer craze.

Founders Tami Arias and Gayla Seymon launched the site in December after months of building partnerships with area businesses.

Through those partnerships, special deals are offered to consumers who sign up for free e-mail alerts about the discounts. Hence the motto of the new site -- "you reap what we sow."

Among their deals so far: carpet cleaning from Personal Touch Carpet Cleaners, tooth-whitening at Walla Walla Dental Care and discounted wine at Patit Creek Cellars.

They've also had tanning specials, personal trainer deals, cooking lessons and photography sessions.

The discounts are an incentive for shoppers to explore somewhere they've never been, book a service they need or return to a favorite business.

If they like what they see or get, the deep discounts are an opportunity for proprietors to build long-term benefits.

"It's getting (customers) in the door," Seymon explained. "For a business, this might not make you money right away, but if you treat them right their loyalty to you will pay off for years to come."

A special deal at Hot Mama's Coffee on Pine Street resulted in the sale of 85 coffee cards, Seymon said.

Here's how it works: Every week Sow Social offers two deals with discounts of up to 70 percent at local restaurants, services, spas, theaters and more.

One deal is offered Monday through Wednesday; the next is posted Thursdays.

As long as a minimum number of sales are made -- in some cases 10 people must buy in -- the deal stands.

Sow Social promotes the deal on its site. Sales are made in the form of printable vouchers.

Once the buyer prints the voucher it can be taken to the merchant for redemption. The merchants are paid through Sow Social, which collects all the payments from the consumers.

Though businesses aren't likely to make money through the discounts they're offering, they do get the chance to gain long-term customers, Arias said.

"These small businesses do not have the budget to advertise unless they have some level of success," Arias said.

"What we're giving them is the start of a marketing plan."

Arias and Seymon make their part of the money through a cut of the sales that take place on the site.

The concept has gained steam across the country as savvy shoppers spread the word about mass-market sites, such as Groupon and Living Social. Group-buying as a consumer strategy exploded in 2010, according to a recent piece on The Wall Street Journal's Smart Money site.

More than 600 social- and group-buying sites, which had not become a household concept until this year, now exist, Smart Money's piece explained.

Apart from the general sites that have built a following, more spa and restaurant groups have formed their own consortia for group-buying. Local newspapers, television stations and phone directories are following suit, Smart Money reported.

What Sow Social does differently is focus exclusively on businesses in the Walla Walla Valley. If the model succeeds, Seymon and Arias want to expand with other group sites in the region.

The two had been working together on a separate Web-based venture when the idea for Sow Social came. They were partners in an online medical staffing company and decided to venture into this new territory together.

As part of their own long-term strategy, they hope to give some of that money back to the community. For the month of December, Sow Social agreed to commit 50 percent of its profits to Helpline and the Christian Aid Center.

They plan to choose other charities at different times of the year to support. As with the business model, the charitable contributions come with one stipulation, Seymon said: "All we know for certain is we want to keep it local."

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