Local Hometown Deal Site Battling National Online Coupon Giants

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by Laura Neff Henderson

Stephen Smiroldo wanted to be able to take his wife out more often but after losing his full time employment, in order to do that, he needed to find a way to do it for less money out of pocket. The coupons were out there, but what he wanted was one website that would allow him to search for the coupons he wanted. It wasn’t until he was talking with his friend and colleague Teresa Martin about this that they realized that they could make this happen. Together, they had the skills and the time to make it happen.

The company grew out of necessity for the two, who both worked for a local architecture firm AECOM for many years until they were both laid off in 2009. Forced to do something and passionate about the area’s need for a local online coupon site that could cater to small businesses, Hometown Freebies was born.

“We started with the idea of having the site be one in which only free items would be listed; however, as we began going out and talking to business owners, we quickly realized not every business could give something away for free,” said Martin. “[And,] with the worsening economy, advertising for their businesses was often the first thing to be cut from their own budgets. So, as we approached Hometown Freebies from a consumer standpoint, we realized it benefited businesses just as much if not more.”

Smiroldo brought a background in computer programming to the table, while Martin had experience in graphic design. It would take more than two years and thousands of hours of work, not to mention thousands of dollars in advertising, before that concept became a reality. On April 5, 2010 Hometown Freebies was launched online.

“We started developing this site … before Groupon, Roanoke Daily Deals, and others entered the market,” said Smiroldo. “It’s just taken us a while to offer a complete service/website.”

Now more than 800 subscribers later, Hometown Freebies is the Roanoke Valley’s newest online coupon website. Like its competitors, consumers sign up for a free account then receive regular emails promoting deals on products and services being offered. Businesses sign up to offer a discount to subscribers and agree to pay a flat fee to be in a Featured Deal emailed out.  This part for businesses is different from similar sites, because other sites often charge a percentage of each deal sold.

“We want to get out there not just for the success of our site, but for the benefit of small businesses in the area since Groupon and Roanoke Daily Deals is receiving 50 – 55% of each businesses’ revenue from a deal,” said Smiroldo.

Hometown Freebies is completely free – for the consumer and the business owner, for now.  Anyone can sign up for a free account. Subscribers are encouraged to “grab” any of the local deals by printing out the coupons.  The site offers deep discounts at local stores, restaurants, spas, theatres and other services.

Unlike its competitors, Hometown Freebies subscribers don’t actually pay for the deal online. Instead, consumers actually “grab” the coupon from the site and print it out so they may take it with them to the local vendor. It’s there, at the vendor, when and if they decide to redeem the coupon that they actually pay for it. Once registered and approved, businesses are listed in the online business directory and are able to post deals for products and services directly to the site for subscribers to see. “Featured Deal Spots” are also available to business owners for a small fee.

Smiroldo and Martin are focused on increasing their presence in the Roanoke Valley this year. As part of their commitment to prove how effective and efficient Hometown Freebies can be to business owners, the $148 fee that businesses will be asked to pay to be highlighted in a “Featured Deal” email in the future, is being waived until they hit 5,000 subscribers.

“We would love for the site to make money, but our goal is for businesses to realize that this is a true benefit [to their company],” said Smiroldo. “It will be free for a while, but we want them to know that when we do begin charging, it will be a low cost option that is worth the investment.”

Victoria G. Plymale who owns Skin Therapy by Victoria, on Colonial Avenue in Roanoke has been using the Hometown Freebies site for about a year and has found it to be very successful.

“Hometown Freebies is a great option because there’s no cost to the business owner unless you want to make use of the more advanced options,” she said. “It’s also very flexible. You can leave your deal up for as long as you’d like, and change it as often as you’d like.”

Check out Hometown Freebies online at: http://hometown-freebies.com