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Doug Ford is deciding whether he wants to be the leader of Ontario’s Conservative Party.
Shopcastr: Discover What Your City Has In Store
Toronto's startup community gets it right once again.

What do independent retailers like those in Kensington Market and Leslieville do really well? Unique product curation? Yes. Merchandise with flair? Absolutely. Storefront personality? Most likely. Mindblowing website design? Sorry, probably not.

It doesn’t have to be award winning, but these days, whether big or small, a retailer’s online presence needs to be effective.  Enter Shopcastr. It’s an online local shopping community that storeowners can use to feature their products (antiques, art, bikes, fashion, food, and more) for users to “love” and, ultimately, buy in store.

Shopcastr works by having store owners and users clip or snap photos of compelling products and then upload them to the site. As a result, Shopcastr becomes a kind of Pinterest-style DIY catalogue for retailers, letting stores display their wares in a way that is both novel and easy.

“One of the most compelling things we discovered,” says Matt O’Leary, co-founder of Shopcastr, “is that even if shops had a website, it typically wasn’t serving their needs. Whether they paid $1,000 or $5,000, their site was still out of date a month after it went live.”

Shopcastr’s solution is to streamline the whole process of showing off inventory. Even those without a website can simply use Shopcastr to put up a catalogue of products, and in the process, drive real-world traffic and get detailed analytics about who is looking at what. Users can also browse by neighbourhood and get updates through Twitter or Facebook when a store adds something new.

“The simplicity is huge,” says co-founder Aron Jones. “The demo sells them every time.” Provide an email and your shop name, a little data (store hours and location to start) and a photo and you have a good-looking web page. “In two minutes, you’ll have a nicer looking site than most retailers currently have,” says O’Leary.

Hoping to sign up 50 stores in a month, O’Leary reports that they signed 100 in two weeks and recently hit 250 shops with over 2,500 products. Pretty Freedom, a vintage clothing store in Kensington Market, reports over 10,000 product views in one week.

There is, however, still lots of room for Shopcastr itself to grow.  All of their consumer engagement thus far has been driven by shopkeepers sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, “which is why we brought in Judy,” O’Leary exclaims. “Now it’s her problem.”

“Judy” is Judy Sims, a member of Postmedia’s Digital Advisory Board, the former VP of Digital Media at the Toronto Star, and newly initiated Shopcastr team member. “I know how to make people read media,” she explains. “I did that for over 10 years at the Star.” Sims launched wheels.ca, parentcentral.ca, yourhome.ca and healthzone.ca for Torstar. “It was all about getting both sides. You need the advertisers and the audience together. Fifty-fifty. Matt and Aron had already done such a good job on the shopkeeper side, now it’s my turn to step in and use some of my ‘old’ media skills,” she says with a laugh.

They expect to announce more specific consumer community plans in the coming weeks. “No revenue yet,” O’Leary reports. “But we will likely offer a subscription-based service for retailers,” as well as advertising and other promotional channels. They report that Shopcastr is in beta mode following a small friends-and-family raise, as well as small seed funding through Mantella Venture Partners.

Amidst the rampant popularity of pin-board communities (Mashable reported that Pinterest is “reshaping social commerce”), it seems that Shopcastr may be riding the right wave, but with significant differences: “It does come across as Pinterest-style content,” Jones agrees. “But it’s real… You can actually go around the corner and buy it.”

Next steps? More consumers. After that? More cities. “Someone emailed us from Brooklyn saying ‘there’s so much cool stuff on here. Can any of it be shipped?’ Um. No. But we’re looking into opening Shopcastr New York,” O’Leary laughs. For anyone outside of Toronto, watch for “Unlock your City” campaigns. Until then, discover what Toronto has in store.

Mike Connell blogs about the business community. Follow him on Twitter at @themuna.

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