Chicago entrepreneur makes a go in the online coupon business
09/01/2010 10:00 PM
It’s hard to image that a desire for inexpensive sushi and hairdos would drive a small business to success by topping electronic coupon searches in the South Loop. But one neighborhood entrepreneur is linking urban dwellers with the deals they seek.
Searching the Printmecoupon.com site with a South Loop ZIP code leads to pop-up deals offering pizza, olives and facials at a great price or with an incentive.
Printmecoupon.com launched at the beginning of the year and is making a go in the growing online coupon business though a niche that focuses on the neighborhood first. The business is run out of the home office of Gwen Bauer and grew from Open Me, an already successful direct-mail business she owns with her husband. She realized that a whole array of so-called mom and pop stores couldn’t afford direct marketing.
The online company offers small and independent businesses a chance to access new customers electronically over the Internet and through smart phones without the larger costs and risks associated with “deal-of-the-day” coupons sold by companies such as Chicago’s own world leading e-coupon giant Groupon.
Think about it, says Bauer, of the sushi and salon craze driving her site. People eat three times a day and get their hair cut every four to six weeks. With a serious tone for the shop local movement, Bauer said, “People should find businesses in their neighborhood.”
For a minimum of $20 per month, retailers and restaurants can post coupons at Print me detailing incentivized offers to Printme’s younger generation of deal-hunting coupon users who are 20 to 30 years old and eat out a lot.
During six months of business, the No. 1-tracked coupon at Printme remains Ichiban Sushi on Taylor Street in Little Italy, which offered all you can eat sushi for $9.95 — an incredible deal for any age group.
Two years ago, 20 percent off the top of a standard retail price was a good offer, but this year people want 50 and even 90 percent off, Bauer said. Many abide in hopes of drawing new customers during a time of closed wallets, she said.
Site tracking shows 100 new potential users a day visit Printme, which has sold access to coupons for everything from parking spots in the Loop to coupons offering $250 off real estate closing costs.
As giants like Groupon take the national stage with national offers and deals, Printme is happy connecting small retailers with new customers.
“It’s where we started. It’s where we live,” Bauer said.
Not too picky when a good deal passes across her computer screen, Bauer admitted to jumping on a few Groupon deals herself. The model is great for the consumer, but it can be hard on small retailers and restaurants, she said, before mentioning a nearby restaurant owner who recently lost $75,000 in food costs to satisfy a Groupon he offered.
Bauer has an advertising agency background and sought to continue on with the business at a more personal level, so she built a business model that allowed her to be a mom at home as well.
Six months into Printme, she has one full-time employee and 25 others selling out in the field. With a goal of 1,000 clients by the New Year, Printme has seen 300 businesses use her service to offer more than 700 deals.
The company grew out of the couple’s direct-mail business started a few years ago. She noticed that many small businesses simple could not afford to pay $400 to $700 for placement in the coupon book that went into condos around the South Loop. What differentiates Printme from Groupon and others offering deal-of-the-day coupons online, is no need to buy on the part of the customer. Retailers or shop owners avoid further loss on the sale price, because Printme’s flat-rate cost structure.
“Food service and salons drive the overall traffic,” Bauer said. “But, right now everyone wants a deal for everything.”