Necessity is the mother of invention,” so goes the English proverb that roughly means when put in a difficult situation, one is likely to be inspired to create a novel or ingenious solution. So it was the situation in Miami mid-pandemic during which Yvonne Chen and Rafael Barrera, Shorecrest neighbors and proud Miamians, were out for a jog during the recent mandated quarantine and came up with the idea of a way to help local businesses get their goods into the hands of willing customers. Thus Vecinos Market was born. Vecinos, which means neighbors in Spanish, is an online shopping platform that offers home delivery of unique, quality goods and experiences from South Florida’s top vendors and startups. Everything from fresh seafood to empanadas, to handmade pasta to ethically sourced beauty and home goods is available on the site.
A NEIGHBORLY INITIATIVE
Of course there are a myriad of reasons to shop local: locally owned businesses circulate three times more money back into the local economy than chain stores, these businesses grow our city’s character and inspire entrepreneurship, they are better positioned to respond to the needs of our community, and are inherently tied to Miami’s future. And while some local businesses are adapting to the current environment with expanded online shopping, curbside and delivery services, others are being tested to the utmost of their resources just to keep things going during these times.
“When you’re running a business on your own, especially a brick-and- mortar business, it involves different areas of expertise that not everyone is well placed to manage,” says Chen, co-founder and CEO of Vecinos Market. “Not only are we offering a digital platform for sales, what we’re also doing is marketing and promotion for these businesses as a collective, which makes more sense than each business spending thousands of dollars on their own PR and marketing.”
Chen, who enjoyed a successful career with Carnival Corporation in successive leadership roles for the past 17 years, brings an accounting savvy to Vecinos, while Barerra’s personal passion for cooking and the culinary arts, and his family’s long history in retail development, sets the product standard for the startup.
The response from the business community has been overwhelmingly positive. “When we did our initial projections, we thought maybe twenty vendors would be a good number,” says Chen. “But we ended up launching with fifty and now we’re up to sixty-five and constantly in discussion with new vendors. It’s even gotten to the point where people are contacting us to be involved, which is super exciting.”
CLICK AND SHOP
The variety of products is impressive, with the site functioning similar to a digital bazaar with a dizzying array of “stalls” and stands hawking their goods. Fancy an engraved candle from Wynwood’s TAJA Collection in the same basket as a rose water with flecks of gold from Rebirth Elixirs? It’s all there. Familiar names have signed on like vegan baker Pamela Wasabi, eclectic boutique Frangipani and artisanal food purveyors like Mimmo’s Mozzarella and Swank Specialty Produce.
The curating process involves a combination of criteria. “First, it has to be from Miami,” says Barrera, Vecinos Market Co-Founder & Chief Curator. “We look for things that make Miami special and we want to create a unique shopping experience. We also want socially conscious business with a sense of community.”
Chen and Barrera took a hands- on approach, even designing the website on their own using the Shopify platform and for the time being are doing most deliveries themselves. They have a delivery partner and shipping service on board once sales become more robust but for the initial launch are enjoying the experience of visiting their vendors and seeing the products first-hand. They don’t charge vendors to participate in the site, and only charge a commission on actual sales. There are plans for the Experiences section of the site that will offer free fitness classes, activities for kids, and interviews with chefs and entrepreneurs. They’ve even partnered with local charities Kristi House and Lotus House to donate a portion of sales.
“I think our measure of success is twofold,” says Chen. “Consumers can tap into the sight and feel the small business community, and from the vendor side we would love for the platform to bring revenue to our partners.” As our city (and life) takes on a more digital presence, Vecinos Market will be there to provide all that local goodness to your home. vecinosmarket.com