The first thing you need to know about Zaarly’s newest endeavor, Zaarly Storefronts, is that you can leave the trowel at home. These are not brick-and-mortar businesses, despite the name. Rather, Zaarly is changing its core focus from a model of customers' posting their desires and having Zaarly users fulfill them to one where sellers market their services and products to buyers through a virtual
store. On Saturday, Kansas City will be the fourth market to launch Storefronts.
Zaarly CEO Bo Fishback, who continues to live in Kansas City even though his company’s headquarters moved to San Francisco earlier this year, says the pivot toward giving sellers online spaces of their own came after studying Zaarly’s sales data. But it was also partially inspired by a photo book of New York City storefronts that had gone vacant after longstanding businesses had failed.
“Some [of the businesses] were like third-generation Italian meat markets,” he says. “A health inspector came and told them they were no longer able to hang meat in their windows. They took the meat down, and all their customers started going away.”
What Zaarly Storefronts aims to do is give small retailers online windows from which to hang their wares.
"We offer people the next generation of a storefront,” Fishback says.
With Storefronts, a Zaarly team handpicks local sellers and professionals, and asks them if they’d like a Zaarly Storefront. Zaarly then sends a photographer to take glossy promotional photos of the goods and services offered, and Zaarly employees interview the storeowners to help them craft messages about their businesses and establish price points. The service is free to the sellers, and Zaarly takes 10 percent of the sale price. It’s all, Fishback says, “in an effort to be the opposite of Craigslist.”
Fishback says one of the ideas driving Storefronts is that by launching with preselected merchants which Zaarly can vouch for (and offer a money-back guarantee for), only top-flight sellers will want to join later.
“We have intentionally set the bar high with the people, what they do, and quality [that] we know we can guarantee,” he says. “It scares off the people who aren’t serious about it on the one hand. On the other hand, people are serious about it; they know that we’re just as serious about it.”
This might sound a bit like the online marketplace Etsy, which facilitates sales for people who handcraft jewelry, clothes and accessories. Fishback says he has studied Etsy, which has sold $1 billion of goods since 2005.
“We learned a lot from Etsy on this. Etsy did a very, very nice job of keeping a high bar,” he explains. “It’s like, if you want to upload shitty photographs, you can. But that’s not what makes a good storefront.”
But while Zaarly has learned from Etsy’s success, it’s not attempting to emulate Etsy's sales force. That’s clear from the breadth of what’s offered through Storefronts, which includes retailers and practitioners of goods and services across 10 categories.
Kansas City's 70-90 Storefronts launching Saturday include a barbecue master, bakers, a carpenter and a mechanic.
With the shift toward more proprietor-based commerce, Zaarly’s roots as a request-based marketplace might be fading. When The Pitch wrote about Zaarly last fall, the business was largely driven by users asking for food to be delivered and for rides to the airport. Those listings have dwindled, but Fishback says they’re not going away, and Storefront owners can market personal services under the “everyday help” category.
Kansas Citians who want to open their own Zaarly Storefronts can apply on the website after Saturday. But he suggests that potential users study the stores.
“Spend a minute thinking about how they can look awesome in this ecosystem,” he advises.
You can checkout out the Kansas City Storefronts and apply to get your own here.