Go Buy Local is a startup with a brilliant, feel-good idea. It’s like Groupon with a charitable component, listing deals for local businesses that donate part of the transaction to a nonprofit or school of the customer’s choice.
Four years after its launch, Go Buy Local now lists about 1,000 offers on its site, scattered in 25 communities through the Twin Cities. Donations can range from $100 for a real estate listing or 25 cents on a cup of coffee, whatever the business can afford to share.
The problem is, some businesses say they never gave Go Buy Local permission to list any coupons in their name, and did not agree to make any donations as part of the service.
Downtown Minneapolis’ 8th St. Grill & Tap House tweeted Wednesday that the restaurant is not participating in a “50% off entrée” offer being promoted on Go Buy Local. Manager Allie Vogt says she was surprised to learn about it when a customer called last week to validate the deal.
“[Go Buy Local] is offering something that we never agreed upon,” Vogt says. “Until I know more about it, we’re not participating. They do not have authorization to do that with our name, and I’d rather not be a part of something that just throws our information out there like that.”
Vogt says she tried to touch base with Go Buy Local founder Bill Veeneman a few times last week, and asked him to remove 8th St. Grill from the site. The offer disappeared Wednesday afternoon.
Other businesses say they are seeing the same thing. Darby’s Pub and Grill had a “$10 off for any purchase of $35 or more” coupon posted on the site, though its owner never agreed to it.
Veeneman says there’s an honest explanation for the miscommunication. Go Buy Local receives information from newspapers, magazines and radio stations that promote them. The media companies are supposed to act as a middleman and inform the businesses that they’re taking part in Go Buy Local. If they’re not interested, the business is supposed to say so.
Often, businesses don’t respond to emails or packages from Go Buy Local in the mail notifying them that they’re included on the site, Veeneman says. Just last week, he got a call from an irritated business owner who wanted to know why Go Buy Local was offering deals on its product.
“I know they got the email from the media company, so I don't know what more we can do to help them understand what’s going on,” Veeneman says. “We’re helping them. I don’t know how they could be offended by basically free help.”
Veeneman also said businesses decide the deals themselves, based on whatever they believe will attract customers.
“We’re trying to build a sense of collaboration and a spirit of giving that can build substantial donations to all the nonprofits and schools across the city here,” Veeneman says. “We’re trying to do something good here in the community, but if they wanna be off, they can be off. It’s no big deal.”
Consumers who use Go Buy Local are able to select a school or cause of their choice to support. Go Buy Local then bills businesses for the donations they collected over the course of the month and sends checks to the nonprofits.
However, several popular local charities listed as beneficiaries say they’ve never heard of Go Buy Local either.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation of Minnesota says the company does not ring any bells, and does not appear to have sent them any donations. People Serving People, the Twin Cities’ largest family-focused shelter, says it has never had a formal conversation with Go Buy Local, nor has it received donations.
Adam Breininger, the director of development for Friends of the Hennepin County Library, says Go Buy Local does not have any form of a relationship with the library and has not sent them donations.
“I’m quite confident that anything like that would come through me in some way,” he says. “If they’re listing us, promoting us, that’s a problem.”