Digital Main Street aims to boost year-round engagement in Perth
For most of the year, Perth is a small town of 6,000 people. But every summer, cottagers and visitors flood the area along the Rideau waterway pushing that catchment area to close to 60,000. “It’s crazy busy,” says Kari Clarke, coordinator for the Perth BIA.
The town’s summer music festival and events like the Guinness World Record-breaking Kilt Run bring an influx of people to the area, drawing fresh shoppers and diners to the main street and boosting business.
But in 2019, the BIA and its members decided to take the sliver of fall between the summer chaos and Christmas season to work on another attractor: main street’s digital presence.
Perth BIA launched the Digital Main Street program in September. The program combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities.
“It's almost like a snowball coming down a hill, once it started, it was picking up speed and then I was hearing all these businesses that had gotten the grant,” says Clarke. People were posting about it in the private Facebook group the BIA maintains as an open forum for local businesses to share knowledge. “Someone else would see that and it would spur them on – everyone just wanted to take advantage of it.”
So far, Perth has had 63 businesses engage with the program. Nine of the businesses that have applied for the $2,500 Digital Transformation grant have already received it with 14 still pending approval. “So if they all get the grant, knock on wood, which would be amazing, that's almost $60,000 coming into our downtown,” says Clarke. “It’s been nice to see some businesses that weren't super involved in some BIA activities all of a sudden jumped on this.”
As part of the program, the BIA’s Digital Service Squad run by Cathy James and her company Cats Cove Communication has been working with Perth’s vibrant restaurant scene to elevate their approach to social media. One of the staff there has experience with food photography.
Clarke says Perth is home to 23 restaurants and six unique eateries including an artisanal cheese shop, a chocolatier, and a pie maker. “You can easily see on social media what restaurants really have a knack for social media and other restaurants that aren't quite there,” says Clarke adding that it’s a skill that can be taught.
The BIA also lined up two courses in April, including a talk with Avery Schwartz, founder and CEO of Camp Tech – which does digital marketing training for small businesses. Clarke says she’s particularly proud of that. She credits the success of the roll-out to Perth’s business community.
“We have a very engaged board,” says Clarke. “As a community, we’re always coming up with new events and new ideas… new things to do.”
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Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, and Yellow Pages.
This case study was completed during a prior expansion of DMS in partnership with the Province of Ontario and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
In June 2020, a $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario and an additional $7.45 million from the Government of Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19.