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A New iPhone App Gives Local Businesses Marketing Muscle

Local business marketing goes mobile via MerchantCircle. How it works for one computer-repair shop that makes house calls.

Man on the run: Epro's Gino Orfitelli.
Man on the run: Epro's Gino Orfitelli.
Photo© David Lang

Gino Orfitelli has the cure for whatever's ailing your PC, and he makes house calls.

The owner and self-appointed "chief geek" of Southington, Conn.-based ePRO Computer Repair offers clients everything from setup to software installation to virus and spyware removal, specializing in home and office visits. That means Orfitelli is constantly on the go, so mobile technologies play an increasingly critical role in his day-to-day business.

"I run ePRO almost solely out of my iPhone," Orfitelli says. He relies on small-business-centric mobile applications to quote customers, track inventory and invoice jobs. "The iPhone allows me to do everything I need to do to keep the business moving."

Orfitelli's iPhone now includes MerchantCircle's new Merchant Mobile App, which lets users create and publish daily deals, photos and status updates, as well as respond to customer inquiries and monitor reviews. Orfitelli--a longtime MerchantCircle user who credits the site's marketing tools for boosting ePRO's digital visibility--encouraged the company to extend its solution to the iPhone and signed up to test the free Merchant Mobile App as soon as the beta was released.

"Given the nature of my business, it really helps me to have access to [MerchantCircle's] different features when I'm not in front of the computer," Orfitelli says.

Orfitelli's business is one of more than 1.6 million companies that have turned to Mountain View, Calif.-based MerchantCircle to attract new customers and connect with other firms in their community or vertical. In addition to its free marketing and networking services, the MerchantCircle platform features a portfolio of premium solutions, including search-engine marketing and instant website development, to help users further build and enhance their web presence.

"MerchantCircle gets merchants online, connects them with other merchants and provides them with simple, powerful tools to reach customers," says vice president of marketing and product management Darren Waddell. "It's about helping merchants help themselves."

MerchantCircle profiles can be created in a matter of minutes. The site directory includes about 20 million prebuilt listings in all. New users type in their phone number to find their page, customizing and fleshing out the existing information as they see fit. From there, they can manage and track customer reviews and search engine visibility, publish ads across the MerchantCircle network, as well as on Google and Yahoo, and interact with peers to talk shop, ask and answer questions and build referral networks. According to Waddell, between 25,000 and 30,000 merchants join the site every month.

The Merchant Mobile App simplifies and streamlines the MerchantCircle user interface for smartphones, giving users like Orfitelli the flexibility to manage their digital profile even if their daily schedule conspires to keep them far away from the office.

"We want to drive down the barriers blocking merchants from exploring online marketing," Waddell says. "There are so many guys out there in trucks, living their life out and about. We want to make it super simple for them to respond to online activity."

Looking ahead, MerchantCircle will introduce versions of the Merchant Mobile App optimized for Apple's iPad and Google Android devices, also integrating new features and functionality. "The initial release is a great first step," Orfitelli says. "I'm using it on a daily basis. It allows me to do all the things I need to do to keep my MerchantCircle profile up and running."

Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.

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This article was originally published in the August 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Promotion in Motion.

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