An online e-commerce site piloted in Benalla is being expanded to cover the whole of north-east Victoria thanks to a Victorian Government grant.
Victorian Employment, Small Business, Innovation and the Digital Economy Minister Jaala Pulford was in Benalla on Wednesday to announce the funding and website expansion.
“It’s really fantastic to be able to announce today $120,000 in funding for Buy From North East Victoria,” Ms Pulford said.
“This is an online platform that came about through the pandemic.
“Already 400 local, small and medium-sized businesses have been able to find their way onto this marketplace.
“And this will represent a really big expansion, to another 1200 businesses right through the north-east.
“The stories that I’ve been hearing from traders about what it means for them to be accessing, not only consumers in their own town, or in this region, but right around the state, country and even overseas, is really exciting.”
And there are plenty of those good luck stories right here in Benalla.
Most people in the town will know of Beth’s Toys, which used to be on Nunn St.
Despite the fact the shopfront is no longer there, Beth Grant has been selling her products online.
“Before I heard about Buy From Benalla I had an online presence, but it was basically dead in the water,” Ms Grant said.
“It was like having a shop in the middle of the desert, no one knew I was there.
“I didn’t understand what was required, and I have to say the people who took my money and sold me that website really weren’t very supportive.”
Ms Grant said she had experienced the exact opposite with Buy From Benalla, the pilot program.
“It’s a very different experience, absolutely,” Ms Grant said.
“These are people that I actually got to meet face to face.
“You develop a relationship and you develop trust. That’s so much better than sending off an email somewhere and you don’t know where it’s going, and don’t know if you’ll even get a reply.
“I have been getting some sales through the site. It started off a bit slow last year, but I think that was due to COVID.
“I am really hopeful, now that we’re looking at the extra funding and looking at Buy From North East, that this will really increase our potential for sales online.”
One element of the site, that Ms Pulford was keen to highlight was the assistance and training offered to its vendors.
Ms Grant said that was something she had taken advantage of, and it had made the whole process easy.
“Believe me, I have probably called them more than they’d like to admit,” she said.
“And the fact is they’ve been really great. They get back to me really quickly and they always sort things out.”
Another of the site’s vendors is Maggie Hollins, who has taken advantage of it to sell her artwork around Victoria and even interstate.
“I had been online prior to the pandemic because that’s the way of the world,” Ms Hollins said.
“But it was always a bit expensive and I used the local shops like North East Artisans to sell my goods.
“Since being on Buy From Benalla I’ve sold to people up in Corryong and I’ve sold some felted works up on the north coast of NSW.
“It gives me a further reach to get to people who don’t come into a shop or know me.
“They see it online and they can easily order it.
“I had two online shops to start with so I got in touch with the developers and organised to merge them into one shop.
“I’ve had a few questions over the last year and I’ve just sent a ticket in, they’ve responded and sorted out my problem.
“For me I found it all easy to follow and I had no problems setting up my online shop.
“I think I was looking at postage and I had to get in touch with them about how I organise that.
‘‘But uploading all the products was easy, not a problem.
“If you have art you might want to sell online my advice is get in touch with the council and get on board. What have you got to lose?”
Ms Pulford said the pandemic showed that businesses who were online were more resilient.
“That’s why we’re helping businesses showcase their goods and services online,” she said.
“This project will support around 1500 businesses throughout the north-east by boosting their digital capabilities and establishing an online presence that will help them connect with new customers outside of the region.
The digital training element of the project aims to help businesses engage with customers online and boost their understanding of how technology can help them grow.
Ms Pulford said the initiative was funded through the $3.5 million Regional Digital Fund, which supports a broad range of small-scale digital projects identified as priorities by the local Regional Partnership.
“Benalla council is the host organisation, so the grant will go to them,” she said.
“But they are running it and have applied for it on behalf of all of the local councils in the region who, in turn, are doing that on behalf of all of the local traders.
“So the people that have worked with my department to put together a successful proposal are very much advised and led by the local business community.”
This project has also been supported by the Ovens Murray Regional Partnership.
Projects identified as Regional Partnership Priorities are rolling out across the state under the fund, including in Barwon, Central Highlands, Gippsland, Great South Coast, Goulburn, Loddon Campaspe, Mallee, Ovens Murray and Wimmera Southern Mallee regions.