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Virtual shopping mall educates and promotes independent consultants, small businesses

Marie Winter, owner of Northern Lights, a jewelry and handbag company, relies on in-person vending opportunities to sell her products, or which she's had few this year. The Yampa Valley Virtual Shopping Mall is changing how she does business. (Marie Winter/courtesy)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Between a health scare and her short season at the farmers market, Marie Winter was losing faith and motivation to keep her business, Northern Lights, going strong.

She was disappointed and concerned since she lost thousands of dollars worth of revenue from the restricted farmers market and the cancellation of other events, like the holiday market. When Brady Worster, owner of Fhysical Elements, reached out about an idea she had, that all changed.

Worster, alongside her friend Jessica Koppe, was creating a virtual shopping mall on Facebook for representatives of multilevel marketing companies like Pampered Chef and Scentsy, as well as small businesses like Northern Lights or Alpine Bee Candles. They are calling their business endeavor, Yampa Valley Small Business Group.



“I said, ‘This sounds awesome, but I’m not that good at all this social media stuff,’” Winter said. “Boy, did I get an education. It has been the best way to kick somebody into gear. I lost so much drive and so much energy for even caring about the business. I was so down. This was so great. What a great idea.”

The Yampa Valley Virtual Shopping Mall is now open on Facebook with 29 vendors. The “mall” will be open until Dec. 6. Then, a new session will begin a week after that with up to 30 more vendors. Interested vendors can email Worster or Koppe at yampavalleysbg@gmail.com. The pair is also hoping to share work and fundraising being done by non-profits who reach out as well.



Shoppers can search the group on Facebook and easily join. Already there are more than 650 people part of the group.

Worster and Koppe charge a $20 consulting fee for the two-week education program that leads up to the “opening” of the mall. They teach vendors how to improve engagement with posts as well as when to post and other tips.

Brady Worster, pictured with her husband, Paul, began the Yampa Valley Small Business Group with her friend Jessica Koppe. The pair educate small business owners on how to best use social media to gain clients. They are also facilitating the Yampa Valley Virtual Shopping Mall on Facebook. (Courtesy Brady Worster)

Already the idea has proven successful. Each evening vendors post thank yous on the page, showing gratitude for people who have ordered from their business that day. Winter said on the first evening of her posting to the page, she received an order of more than $300.

Some of her products are already selling out.

Koppe and Worster came up with the idea after being a part of a similar, but far less organized group.

Jessica Koppe, pictured with her son Terrell Lam, began the Yampa Valley Small Business Group with her friend Brady Worster. The pair educate small business owners on how to best use social media to gain clients. They are also facilitating the Yampa Valley Virtual Shopping Mall on Facebook. (Courtesy Brady Worster)

“We can organize one of these where everyone gets the exposure that they deserve for being in it and to help out our community. We want to help out our community but don’t necessarily have the means to do it monetarily with every business in town,” Worster added.

The vendors are divided in two groups, with one group posting each day on an assigned schedule.

There are more resources available for brick and mortar small businesses, but for those that rely on other businesses to sell their products, there are less opportunities to advertise or gain the social media skills to get their brand out there.

Shop small this holiday season

Nov. 27 – Black Friday

Nov. 28 – Small Business Saturday

Nov. 29 – Artists Sunday

Nov. 30 – Cyber Monday

Remember, you can support local businesses by shopping online as well as in stores.

Hayden Fresh Farm is also participating while trying to grow its online brand. The farm currently sells products at farmers market and Community Ag Alliance, as well as a few other retailers in the Yampa Valley, but is trying to expand its own retail abilities.

“I’m trying so hard to get our online portion of our website up and going, but there’s unfortunately so many hours in a day,” said Michelle Townsend, co-owner of Hayden Fresh farm. “With the farmers market not being available to us any longer, I thought this might be a great way to let our community know we’re here, we have products available, until I can get that side of things up and running.”

For now, Hayden Fresh Farm is offering pickup at a central location and delivery.

Worster thinks both consumers and creators are catching on that online shopping is an option for small, local businesses and not just large stores.

“I think people are starting to realize this might be the way of the future,” said Worster. “I think they’re a little bit more apt to go to your website and check it out when you’re a small business then they were in February.”


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