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The potential of working with chambers of commerce to sell online marketing accounts to local businesses is an alluring one. They potentially can provide the highest quality, best context leads for SMBs. Initial efforts to partner with chambers, however, haven’t generally worked out due to their poor focus, lack of training, business conflicts, and several false starts from the national chamber. Still, the potential is seen as too good to pass up.

The newest company to build a business plan around working with chambers of commerce is ShopCity, a U.S. and Canadian company that has locked down 7,500 Shop (Cityname) domains. ShopCity hopes to work with chambers as well as local governments and local affiliate businesses to sell online marketing services.

The Angel-funded effort, which provides similar services to sites such as MerchantCircle and SMBLive, launched in July 2009. It is an extension of SMB search and Web site services that President and Cofounder Colin Pape has been offering SMBs in Midlands Ontario for several years. Partners have included small local radio stations, IYPs and newspapers.

With ShopCity, chambers and local government entities partner with the site to provide free basic services to local SMBs, and to sell premium search, promotion and Web site packages, which are currently priced at either $47 or $97 tiers. Features include e-commerce, gift certificates, coupons and newsletter software.

In return for working with ShopCity,  partners get “north of 30 percent” of revenues, with  commissions ironed out based on community size, location, demographics etc. The site also pays 10 percent of revenues to local business affiliates that refer new customers from their page.

The idea of localized domain names isn’t new. Companies such as Go2 have previously gone down that path. But Pape thinks he may be sitting on the “biggest collection of localized domains” available. The wide scope of names, made possible by merging his collection of domains with Cofounder Jim Terry, will enable the company to focus on creating a strong brand. The site is also partnering, or seeking to partner, with the few major localities that are missing from the collection, including Chicago, San Diego, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

One area that Pape believes will be prove especially distinctive is ShopCity’s focus on offline promotions, conceivably including stickers, signs and other materials — an effort similar to what CityVoter does. “Businesses support our message,” says Pape. “It allows us to gain awareness outside of traditional channels.”

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