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Buy it through The Vinelist

Published:Tuesday | October 6, 2015 | 12:29 PMDaviot Kelly
Mannin Marsh (right), managing director and co-founder of The Vinelist explains how the website works while Alesha Aris, marketing manager and co-founder looks on.

Ever need a particular item and have zero idea how to locate it without walking all day? Then you probably need The Vinelist.

The Vinelist is an online marketplace which connects Jamaican consumers to local merchants. Consumers upload images of what they're interested in buying (their 'wants') on to the Vinelist's server, for free. The customer then receives notifications on that item including price, seller locations and any promotions around said product.

The Vinelist's objective is to return the power to the consumer, reversing the market dynamics where merchants directly respond to them. But merchants also benefit as they have a better idea of what the customers really want, and can therefore, adapt to fill those needs.

The concept has been around for two years. The team started final-stage testing in January, and went fully operational in August. Mannin Marsh, original conceptualiser and managing director, said he came up with the idea at the University of Technology (UTech).

"So the initial concept was to figure out a way where you could get people to order food online easily and have it taken to campus," he said. "We were in a software-development project and they asked us to come up with a solution and this was what I was playing around with." Vinelist is a 'fruit' of Project Grapevine, the web design company that Marsh created. The other team members are Alesha Aris, co-founder and marketing director, co-founder and project manager and data analyst, Dean Morris, and developers Tahjloi Laidley and Horace Grant.

Start-Up Weekend Jamaica

The original concept didn't quite work out, but Marsh, who has a design background, sought out individuals with developer skills. They took the idea to Start-Up Weekend Jamaica, part of the wider global grassroots movement, where entrepreneurs learn the basics of founding start-ups and launching successful ventures.

"And we learned the truth, we had a lot more work to do," Marsh laughed. "We took that year, 2014, to really figure out how to turn Vinelist into what it is today."

In launching Project Grapevine, they met Aris and things snowballed from there. Since launching in August, the response has been "amazing".

"It is so obvious to us that there is a demand for this service in Jamaica," said Aris. "Just the fact that we have to use external websites to cater to our market when these products are here in Jamaica. People are responding heavily. There is a 75 per cent likelihood of people purchasing through The Vinelist and a 114 per cent likelihood of someone 're-wanting' an item after it's been posted." The team just returned from three months in Jordan, where they received training and mentorship with their overseas partners, Oasis 500. That link was secured from their work with Start-Up Jamaica.

"We experienced a lot of growth and that is why we were able to launch in August," said Aris. "We went in with our concept and spoke to them." Aris noted the mentors gave encouragement and advice, but allowed them to run their own show.

"You don't feel like your product is being taken over," she said. Right now, the focus is on fashion and tech items but The Vinelist is spreading. And the expansion is timely as with the Christmas season approaching, they are prepared for the expected increased traffic.

"I think merchants will be more heavily interested in coming onboard during that period, because I think that's the optimum time where you make most sales," said Aris.

Looking ahead, Marsh and Aris are envisioning big growth for The Vinelist within the next year. Aris foresees them quadrupling the number of merchants, as well as achieving 5,000 customers. Marsh noted other goals include making The Vinelist available on mobile devices, optimising how persons can upload their wants, and for customers to have their items delivered to them. They are also looking to expand outside of Kingston.