Vermont startup aims to use strength in numbers to become one-stop local online shop

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 5:00 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermonters each year spend hundreds of millions of dollars on online shopping. That’s money that largely leaves the state and doesn’t come back. But a local startup is looking to change that and keep those dollars here while allowing shoppers the convenience of a one-stop shop. And they’re taking a big step this month.

At Homeport in Burlington, shoppers browse the shelves.

“We want people in our store, we want to interact face-to-face. We like people,” said Mark Bouchett, the co-owner of Homeport.

Bouchett says they make their money from people walking in off Church Street, not visiting their website.

“It’s about 1% of my sales right now,” Bouchett said. “We said, ‘We can’t compete with Amazon.’ They do what they do very well.”

But a Burlington startup aims to give him the platform to do just that.

“Our plan is to grow quite fast once we show that this works,” said Bill Calfee, the chief visionary officer for Myti.

The website is aiming to make a mighty big difference for local retailers.

“Our goal is to have 51% of the shops in any of the Myti areas,” Calfee said.

It allows people to shop, searching for items by proximity, the opposite of what giants like Amazon, Walmart, Target and more are doing now.

“It’s all extractive. It’s pulling money out of our local communities, and that’s money that we need to support the social services that we do, all the art and culture that exists,” Calfee said.

Myti’s website aims to make shopping locally as convenient as using a major online retailer. You select your Crocs from Lenny’s Shoe and Apparel, your glassware from AO Glass, and your plates or cups from Homeport and put them in your cart. Then you pay in one transaction, and for a small fee, Myti collects them from retailers and delivers them directly to your home.

Retailers pay Myti a small fee only when their items are sold.

“So there’s pretty low risk to them,” Calfee said.

The idea is good. But I had some questions about whether their current delivery model-- charging $4 and using just their staff and a courier service-- will work as they scale up.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: I know $4 is a gallon of gas these days. Is that sustainable financially for Myti?

Bill Calfee: Well, no. And as the volume grows, it will be. This is all a volume game... For us, once we get volume, then it will be affordable to deliver at that price or maybe less.

He wouldn’t say how they plan to make deliveries work once they take their service out of state. But Calfee did tell me they hope to be serving all of Vermont in a year. And he says they have big goals by 2031.

“We’ll be returning $9 billion a year to local communities throughout our Myti network,” Calfee said.

But for now, they’re starting small. Myti has recruited about 210 buyers pledging to make a purchase from some of the dozen or so retailers on board so far during a beta test Sept. 19-20, and give Myti feedback on the process.

Back at Homeport, Bouchett says he hopes to see several orders in the beta test.

“What we’re looking at is how difficult is it to fulfill them? How are the orders coming in?” Bouchett said.

He says the cut that Myti takes was reasonable for him. And he’s excited about a more personal online shopping experience.

“If they do this right, this is brilliant,” he said.

Their hope is to have Myti available to the general public in March.

If you’re interested in being a beta shopper, go to the website. Any interested businesses that want to join Myti should reach out to them too.