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VOL. 129 | NO. 68 | Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Former Memphian Finds Online Success With StyleBlueprint

HOLLIE DEESE | Special to The Daily News

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Former Memphian Elizabeth Fox and Liza Graves launched the online lifestyle publication StyleBlueprint.com in January 2009 with the goal of connecting women with their community.

Elizabeth Fox, left, and Liza Graves are founders of StyleBlueprint.com.

(Submitted Photo)

The economy had seen better days, and they wanted to expose the small, unique, local businesses they loved to frequent and share them with women who would shop there – if they only knew about them.

Graves and Fox started out small, but laser focused in their hometown of Nashville. They wrote just a few times a week, shining a light on the restaurants, retail shops and activities around town they loved. By September 2009, they were writing five days a week, a pattern that continues.

And by July 2010, the website began to take on the sleek look it has today.

“At that time, we got a little more intentional with the way that we wrote about things, and what I mean by that is we wanted to make sure we were getting more than just our neighborhood, and making sure that every week we were talking about food, that we were bringing in something about fashion, something about home décor, and that we were bringing in things that fell outside that realm,” Graves said.

“Just interesting conversations anyone would have on a girls' night out.”

The site since has expanded to include Memphis, Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., and Louisville, Ky. Instead of taking on the identity of a strictly style or food blog, Graves and Fox decided from the start that the content they would cover would be the same topics you might expect to come up in regular conversation on a night out with friends – a genuine lifestyle blog.

Graves, a Vanderbilt graduate and mother of three who had already opened, run and sold a café, kept running into Fox, who had decades of experience in broadcast sales and marketing.

They knew each other from church and have children of similar ages.

“Elizabeth came to me with an idea about writing together,” Graves said. “From there, we just brainstormed about what that would look like – for a solid year. It was from those conversations we had every single Tuesday for a year that StyleBlueprint was born. We didn’t know each other very well, but through that we have learned to respect each other so much and got to know each other far more throughout this process.”

The first time money started coming into StyleBlueprint was in September 2010 when Graves and Fox decided to offer a discount deal special called StyleBlueprint Deals.

Groupon and Living Social were in their heyday, but they had heard enough bad things from area retailers to know that those who had tried them were not happy, but those who had yet to sign up were still curious enough to give it a try.

“Every newspaper that we read and every news report that we saw talked about how it was the best thing since sliced bread,” Graves says. “We felt like we could create a better mousetrap for this.”

Instead of emailing out a blast with multiple deals, StyleBlueprint offered deals just three times a week so that each one would seem special.

“We could curate it better, we could present it better, and we could give a better split to the businesses than what Groupon and Living Social were doing at the time,” Graves said.

“We never wanted to be the biggest, we just wanted to be the best.”

It worked, and by limiting the number of deals that they offered, the first year they turned down many more businesses than they said yes to.

And while local deals have gone the way of the bargain bin, StyleBlueprint’s have not only remained strong, but have evolved into a new product, the SB Guide, which launched Feb. 1. Similar to their SB deals, SB Guide is a curated version of online consumer reviews and listings.

The Guide is culled to fewer than 500 businesses, some who pay for an expanded listing and some who don’t, but all are handpicked by Graves and Fox.

“It is not a ‘pay for play’ situation,” Graves said. “If it is a place we love to go, it needs to be in our guide.”

By the time Fox and Graves started bringing on advertisers, or “sponsors,” they knew they were able to offer them their money’s worth. That’s because they waited until the start of 2013 when they had already been developing content for years before selling ad space.

“We went into this saying we were not making any money for the first few years, personally,” Graves said. “It wasn’t until January 2013 that we started partnering with premium sponsors. And with our premium sponsors, it was businesses we had already been working with for several years. It wasn’t like we started talking about a bunch of different places because they were advertising. We always wanted it to seem seamless.”

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