A local entrepreneur and Keller Williams REALTOR® is spearheading a tech-savvy community initiative to support economic growth among local business owners in Hastings, MN.
Tom Bullington, a community advocate and a Keller Williams Premier Realty affiliate, has launched a comprehensive neighborhood website that promotes local businesses, their services, and even deal coupons for local Hastings residents.
Since launching in February 2018, Bullington, who participates in several local community projects, has interviewed and featured 16 local business owners on the website, including Hometown Ace Hardware, Planet Beach Spray & Spa, Empty Pockets 4×4, Spiral Brewery, and The Little Red Barn Preschool.
With only a handful of businesses interviewed, Bullington has already seen a boost in his online engagement:
“The website has only been active since February (2018) but people are liking my posts and I’m building recognition. I was participating in the Rivertown Days Parade and was recognized by local business owners I had interviewed. It feels great knowing I’m growing in recognition and that people see the value of what I’m offering. I want to be Hastings’ #1 neighborhood expert!”
Posting and sharing his self-produced videos and blog articles to social media keep Bullington busy, but he considers it all time and effort well spent. He plans to highlight eight local business owners each month, sharing the unique stories of the people behind Hastings’ community of resourceful business owners and entrepreneurs.
A Hastings Neighborhood Website For Everyone
The Hastings neighborhood website, designed and built by Parkbench, is the only one of its kind in Hastings and is sponsored entirely by Bullington. Not only can residents search real estate listings in the area, they can also contribute content and subscribe to receive weekly updates on local events, including the latest deals from businesses close to home.
Most surprising of all, Bullington is providing the website free of charge to residents and business owners alike. There are no paid advertisements to be found, no annoying pop-ups, and businesses can promote their offerings for free, forever.
Sound too good to be true?
Not if you know anything about Tom.
Every Voice Counts
Early in life, Bullington learned that every voice counts in a democracy.
Born and raised in West Des Moines, Iowa, Bullington’s interest in politics and history was galvanized by the Iowa presidential caucus, both in 1976 and 1980. An avid observer at first, his interest evolved with age, leading him to pursue a career as a communications director for city governments.
Relocating to Hastings with his wife Cheryl, and their two sons, Christopher and Jacob, Bullington developed a new business as a communications and marketing consultant. Despite the demands of fatherhood, marriage, and the challenges of being self-employed, community involvement remained a priority for Bullington.
Asked about the reason for his community involvement, Bullington explains:
“Being active in how Hastings will grow and develop really matters to me. This is where my family lives, and I plan on being here a long time. It’s important that I set a good example for my sons too. I know every voice counts, which is why I’m involved in the Hastings Democracy Project, local campaigns, and host a monthly current events program on Hastings Community TV.”
His Facebook Page, Hastings Happenings, began as a passion project. Inspired by advice from influencer and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, Bullington began covering local events himself to build his audience:
“Over the years, it has become more difficult to find relevant local news for Hastings. There are fewer news sources than there were 20 years ago, and narrower points of view being shared. I wanted to provide residents with a news source that speaks about things that matter to our community. So I went out and did that with Hastings Happenings, and built an audience of 2,800 over the past 9 years, but I had no consistent method or platform besides Facebook.”
After obtaining his real estate license in the spring of 2017, Bullington quickly realized that he didn’t want transactions to be the only focus of his business.
Specifically, Bullington saw an important correlation between residential real estate and local business:
“People would rather work here in the community than travel half an hour to St. Paul. We just lost our local Target store, and we’re isolated from major cities because there’s no public transit here. For me, real estate is only part of the answer. A good tax base can improve the quality of life for everyone. With more homeowners buying locally, we can build a more sustainable local economy that actually employs the people who live here.”
Helping Neighborhoods Grow One Agent At A Time
Parkbench.com, founded by former real estate agent Amanda Newman and her husband Grant Findlay-Shirras, caters exclusively to community-minded agents who want to build relationships in their neighborhood.
As co-founder Newman explains from the company’s head office in Toronto, Canada:
“We work with one realtor per neighborhood exclusively because we only want agents who are committed to the community. Our mantra is ‘help neighborhoods grow’ and we see real estate agents as playing a critical role in making that happen. We’ve built over 15,000 neighborhood websites and our goal is 1,000,000 by 2020.”
Hastings’ Local Leader
Parkbench neighborhood sponsors share a common interest in representing their community and helping neighborhoods grow. Each agent who sponsors a neighborhood is trained to master the principles of reciprocity to brand themselves as community advocates, or ‘local leaders’ as they are referred to.
Bullington receives bi-weekly local leader coaching with a Parkbench success coach. During their half-hour sessions, Bullington learns how to use his website to build relationships and become THE local leader in Hastings.
Says Bullington of his local leader training:
“Parkbench holds me accountable each week to my community. A local leader isn’t just about selling the most homes. My website actually provides value to the whole community and by investing in relationships first, I know my business will also grow. The more businesses I help, the more recognized and trusted I become, and that makes me a better agent to potential homeowners who want a neighborhood expert.”