Advertising local businesses on ‘The Yerli’

A hub for users to find local businesses in one convenient place

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By Quinn He, Arts Editor

The mayhem of the COVID-19 pandemic decimated small businesses across the country. People began to realize the importance of watching out for one another and staying close as a community, rallying and purchasing food from small businesses to keep them afloat. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for some local institutions, which had to shut down due to lost revenue caused by shutdowns and decreased traffic. It seems “The Yerli”, an app that enables local businesses to connect with members of the community, has come at the perfect time. Many people are involved with running the app, but Avi Benmayor, Liam Johnston and Kevin Cutinella make up the main founders. They officially launched just a few weeks ago, but the app has been in the works for just over a year.

All three students share co-founder status, but each takes on an additional role. Benmayor focuses more on the marketing, pitching and coming up with ideas. He’s the guy you want to talk to when you want to add a business to the app’s database. Johnston works more on the coding side of things, while Cutinella grounds the other two and makes sure everyone is on the right track. He is the one making sure they get enough businesses signed up and that the product works the way it’s supposed to.

When Benmayor was in high school, six local business owners came into his entrepreneurship class. “Struggle was the main theme,” Benmayor said, “Struggle marketing to young people and students in the community.” He recalled thinking that the businesses were probably struggling because no one had heard of them. Exposure is an extremely important aspect of running a small business.

“Small businesses don’t always have enough financing for a marketing budget like these large corporations,” Benmayor said. Much larger businesses can shell out millions of dollars on ads on all types of platforms, making it impossible for local businesses to compete at the same level with less than half the budget. As a free service, “The Yerli” could make a significant impact on the small business community in Amherst, and eventually surrounding parts of Massachusetts.

“The owner of a small business is always there,” Benmayor said when discussing local businesses in the grand scope of the consumer world. “Their voice has to be heard. You want to focus on the customer and, the larger the business, the harder it is to do that.” It’s hard to match the feeling of walking into a store, restaurant or other business, and knowing the owner on a friendly basis. Impersonal transactions can become monotonous and tiring. Big name corporations and fast food chains have conditioned consumers to mindlessly transact money for goods and services, almost negating that human element. The same could be said when thinking of online shopping. As Benmayor and I discussed, McDonalds spends millions of dollars on advertising with the intention of getting you to passively crave a Big Mac, crispy fries and a cool, refreshing soda. It could be working right now. Smaller-scale local businesses, unfortunately, don’t have the money to create advertising that creates the same effect.

COVID-19 hasn’t been easy on small businesses. As we look around Downtown Amherst and the surrounding area, what do we see? Small, local businesses littered around every corner. As University of Massachusetts students, we know that local businesses all over Amherst are a huge part of the community and of the UMass experience no matter where we’re from. “The Yerli” is here to give local businesses a second chance and to give them a platform to be seen by potential customers.

Creating an app isn’t an easy task. “I’ve never built an app before,” co-founder Johnston explained, “I had to buy this giant book to learn how to code for Android.” Johnston, a student at George Washington University, joined the project early . He received a message from a friend asking if he’d be interested in helping build an app and soon connected with Benmayor and Cutinella, both UMass students.

Johnston added, “I lived in Amherst from mid-October to mid-November. It was a very interesting experience.”  Many hands have worked on “The Yerli” since its inception. The project has had many coders who work for some time, but ultimately leave when an internship or jobs comes into their lap. “This is more of a project and a hobby right now, Liam clarified, “because it doesn’t pay and is very time insensitive.” Still, what an exciting and impactful hobby.

One of the goals of “The Yerli” is to get students to choose a local eatery at least once in a while when they decide to eat out. Sure, McDonald’s or Moe’s may be cheaper, but for a little more money you’re getting much better-quality ingredients, and, if you get to know the owner, maybe a little extra food.

Benmayor mentioned when asked what the most important aspect of building an app is, “Entrepreneurship starts and ends with the team.” With plans to grow the app and add more coders, he said, “The biggest thing is functionality, to have no bugs[…] I want to make sure it’s fresh, new, and different. We have a lot more work to do in that sense and we have so many cool projects in the works.”

“The Yerli” is available for download on the Apple App Store right now and will be in the pilot phase for the rest of the Spring semester with the goal of expanding to surrounding towns in and adding new businesses later this spring.

Quinn He can be reached at [email protected].