|Supportland’s Katrina Scotto di Carlo with Chad Miller of Food Fight, a new enlistee in the Supportland small-business network.
Photo: Dustin Eppers/EnzymePDX
If there is any store in town that screams “We are a Portland business,” it’s Food Fight, the vegan grocery near the corner of SE 12th and Stark. It serves its animal-friendly products with a side of ironically self-righteous snark: tote bags reading “Vegan Means I’m Trying to Suck Less”; shirts with a drawing of an adorable cartoon sheep asking the question, “What Kind of Asshole Eats a Lamb?”; stickers on the cash registers declaring “I Heart Hunting Accidents.” A sign outside the entrance informs passers-by that the place is open “Every Fucking Day” – because if there’s one thing Stumptownians love more than asserting the humanitarian consciousness of their diet, it’s gratuitous swearing.
This is exactly the sort of establishment Katrina Scotto di Carlo wants to support.
Right now, Scotto di Carlo – an energetic, bespectacled woman who is quick to giggle and use the phrase “cookie monster” as a verb – is behind the counter with an open laptop, training co-owner Chad Miller in the intricacies of Supportland, the reward card program she and her husband created exclusively for locally owned Portland businesses.
Food Fight is one of about 50 outfits to sign up so far. A freshly opened cardboard box containing the grocery’s first 50 cards – each adorned with an illustration of Paul Bunyan hanging out with a rock ‘n’ roll squirrel and a caffeinated raccoon – is already positioned on the counter with an explanatory sign drawn up seconds before by Miller’s wife, Emiko. Miller asks Scotto di Carlo the best way to promote the free card to his customers. She likes to describe it as “like a Fred Meyer’s card,” but, like with the grocery’s Sharpie-fueled makeshift marketing campaign, she encourages participants to personalize how they push the program on their patrons.
When a customer steps up to buy an orange and a bottle of organic fruit juice a few minutes later, Miller makes his pitch: “You can swipe the card, get points, and eventually get shit with those points.” Well, whatever works. And, in this case, it does. Miller swipes the card, and the guy has his first 15 Supportland points – which, once they accumulate, he can use to “get shit” at Food Fight or any of the other stores in the network.
Like most of the other business owners who’ve already registered, Miller heard about Supportland through other businesses. Miller, who’s been operating Food Fight for seven years, describes this summer as being “super dead.” He was looking for something to kick-start business again, and figured there wasn’t much risk in giving Supportland a try. “Anything to get a leg-up on advertising,” he said. “We don’t have the money the big guys do.”
That “David versus Goliath” spirit is partially what inspired Scotto di Carlo to start the program. Other than selling shoes in her high school years, she has no previous business experience; she says that from her perspective, starting a company “seems impossible.” What she does have is a natural competitive drive, something that she, as a liberal peacenik, tried for a long time to quell.
“I did sports growing up, and that was my outlet,” she said. “Now it’s beating the big guys.”
Initially, she and her husband, Michael – an ex-Clark College computer technology professor who has small-time entrepreneurship in his genes, growing up helping his father make shirts in his basement – conceived of creating a website that would allow the public to sign up for the various training classes and courses offered around town, all in one spot. “Yoga instructors don’t like handling money,” she said. Over the next three years, as they crowd-sourced the idea (read: discussed it with friends at parties), they found that the notion of letting people collect points would increase the incentive for people to shop locally. “Once we started researching it, we realized that rewards cards are a huge component of why these bigger corporations have pulled ahead.”
So far, the concept appears to be catching on. Since launching the beta version of the Supportland site in August – where businesses and card-holders can track user points – there have been about 25,000 transactions, 3,000 of which are unique card swipes, indicating that a single user is visiting an average of four different places in the network, Michael Scotto di Carlo says. Whereas traditional punch cards and bonus reward systems benefit only the individual businesses that offer them, Supportland encourages businesses to prop up other businesses for mutual gain. Miller, for instance, wants to bring fellow vegan-oriented stores into the network.
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