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Small is Beautiful

Off The Cuff with Eric Tallmadge of Small Shops United

Jan. 22, 2014
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Free coffee, tea, cocktails and beer, lunch buffets, soup and popcorn. Free hookahs and box rentals, bath bombs and dog baths. Discounted candies, flowers, movies and wine, pizza, Italian food and Reuben sandwiches. Framing, fitness, programs…even bar tabs? Small Shops United (SSU) is a cooperative union of Milwaukee merchants collaborating. Eric Tallmadge is mastermind, founder and managing partner. The Milwaukee native “has no second job. This is my life.” He sat down with Off the Cuff to discuss life rafts, caffeine and free mobile futures. 


So, Small Shops United. How small are we talking here? 

JDBC Tax Services just came aboard. Currently a one-man operation. He’s a good guy. 


How many small shops? And how United? 

Fifty-five and counting. All are independently owned and operated neighborhood businesses. 


Who can’t join? 

No corporate chains or franchises allowed. 


From whence sprung? 

I’m guilty. It was 2010, in NYC. I increasingly saw national brands really damaging neighborhood self-identity. I imagined a platform that’d encourage consumers to shift spending locally. The vast majority of that money tends to stay in the community. I envisioned it for Milwaukee. 


Challenges to growth? 

Hearing out owners and consumers took a year. No kidding. That said, I could use a tech partner. We launched May 21. We have 2,500 members and host 400 transactions daily. Starting a tech business with no technical background is like taking your car to a mechanic for the first time.


Lot of cafés involved: Anodyne, Bella, Birdies, Lulu, Centro, Coffee With a Conscience, Highlands, One Way, Rochambo, Verduras—was this a caffeinated idea? 

Man, I don’t even drink coffee. But I love the cafés involved. I hope to see many more. 


Has this been done elsewhere? 

A few national startups share commonalities—multi-merchant rewards and tablets, namely. But this is unlike anything the business world has seen. 


Advantages to merchants? 

New customers. A customizable loyalty platform that rewards returning customers. At no charge. How about that? 


Space on the life raft for more businesses? 

Absolutely! The more merchants join, the more valuable Small Shops United is for everyone. Did I mention there are no fees for merchants?


Consumer benefits? 

Support businesses, the neighborhood wins. Save money, Milwaukee flourishes. One Small Shops United member card. I see no downside. 


Unless, maybe, the card is too heavy? 

Ideally, by the end of 2014 members with iPhone and Android phones won’t even carry the card. 


Where for more? 

Check smallshopsunited.com. I’m at eric@smallshopsunited.com 


Small Shops United’s future? 

The future of Small Shops United is mobile. Consumers searching, discovering, sharing, recommending, earning and redeeming—right from phones. Ordering, too. Also, becoming the “go-to” source for small-business marketing and advertising. And ultimately, ideally, neighborhoods filled with homegrown, locally owned businesses meeting community needs. 


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