The Advocate

EBay is bringing two programs to Baton Rouge: one that trains local small businesses how to better sell products online, the other involving hiring about 40 people to work from home as customer service representatives.

“This is just a start,” said Devin Wenig, president and CEO of eBay. “We’ll call it eBay South in Baton Rouge.”

Baton Rouge is the fourth U.S. city to be selected for eBay’s Retail Revival program, which launched a year ago in Akron, Ohio. The 12-month program gives participating businesses free comprehensive training, one-on-one coaching from an eBay customer service team, an eBay premium store subscription and promotional support.

The online retail giant announced the partnership with the city of Baton Rouge during a Tuesday news conference with East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. A range of business, education and political leaders attended the event at Red Stick Social, including U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge; LSU President F. King Alexander; Southern University President-Chancellor Ray Belton; Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber; Genevieve Silverman, president and CEO of the Research Park Corp.; and Chris Tyson, president and CEO of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority.

The program aims to help small businesses use the internet and eBay to sell their goods nationally and internationally, Wenig said.

“This is a platform to breathe life in retail communities,” he said. One Akron business has seen its sales triple as the result of Retail Revival.

The other U.S. cities participating in Retail Revival are Lansing, Michigan, and Greensboro, North Carolina. The merchants participating in Retail Revival have posted cumulative sales of more than $10 million to date and created dozens of new jobs.

One local candidate for Retail Revival is Woolly Threads, a 4-year old Mid City business that sells sweatshirts and hoodies made on vintage equipment. Wenig and Broome visited Woolly Threads after the news conference.

Natalie John, the founder of Woolly Threads, said her businesses does about $1.5 million in annual sales, but between $100,000 to $150,000 comes from online. The company sells sweatshirts with licenses from more than 350 colleges and sororities. John said she’s interested in using the program to sell sweatshirts across the U.S. and even internationally. “We want to expand more in the north where the climate is cool more year-round,” she said. “We think this program would be perfect for our company.”

Baton Rouge beat out 15 other cities for the latest round of the program.

“We’ve got some candidates here in Baton Rouge for the program,” Broome said.

The businesses that work best for Retail Revival are “artisans, people who make things, and haven’t figured out e-commerce, Wenig said. “The unique products have seen really, really impressive growth,” he said.

Wenig said he started talking with city leaders about nine months ago about participating in Retail Revival. EBay chose Baton Rouge because the city has a community where entrepreneurship is alive and well, a strong educational system and the support of local government, he said.

As a result of the discussions, eBay also selected the city for its of eBay@Home program, which hires people to work as customer service employees and work from their house. The program, which has been introduced in Austin, Salt Lake City and Akron, will start locally in late summer.

The employees will have the same wages and benefits as other eBay customer service workers, Wenig said.

“We were so pleased with the partnership; we felt like Baton Rouge was a great place for us to put a stake down,” he said.

Broome said no financial incentives were offered to eBay to lure Retail Revival or eBay@Home to the city. She said the city and eBay had an “almost simultaneous” interest in working with one another and credited East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Dawn Collins with “putting the fire under us” to connect with the online retailer.

Businesses will have an opportunity to apply online to be a part of the program beginning in August at ebayinc.com/BatonRouge.

Broome said eBay will accept as many qualified applicants as it can, and the city plans to let companies know about Retail Revival so they can take full advantage of the program once it is launched.