Eric Zener and Ken Arciga have launched Shopvine, an app-baed notification system designed to connect shops and their products to customers. Courtesy images.

PictureShopvine in the app store.

Email newsletters, Instagram and social media platforms du jour, FaceTime and video chats – these are among the array of ways that Mill Valley retailers have been connecting with their customers during a COVID-19 crisis that spanned many months in which business owners couldn’t interact with customers in person at all, and only now can do so at limited capacity. 

Renowned local artist Eric Zener has had a similar issue for years, irrespective of the coronavirus. Zener says he’d regularly hear from longtime fans of his work that they wish they’d known about a new painting he’d created but was quickly snatched up. 

“It’s difficult to serve your audience with equanimity, so that everyone can see what you have when it arrives,” Zener says. “Galleries would complain that they would try to reach out to their clients and their emails would get buried. Websites have been dying on the vine. Longstanding clients would be frustrated that when they found a piece were looking for, they’d learn it  was already sold.”

“I just saw a problem in my niche industry where there was this friction between demand and supply, but I don’t have a tech brain,” Zener says.

So Zener turned to Ken Arciga, his best friend since they were 18 years old and someone who very much has the tech brain that Zener says he lacks, having spent years at a number of tech giants, including many years with Amazon Web Services. 

“The main thrust of his journey has been helping huge companies reach their customers,” Zener says. “So we’ve combined my problem that I know exists with his solution-oriented thinking.”

The duo have been working on that solution “at a snail’s pace” for 3-4 years, and are now ready to unveil it. It firmly falls under the category of “there’s an app for that,” and it’s called Shopvine. It’s an app that centers on a notification system between retailers and their customers that allows shops to instantly notify their customers using the app when a new product or product type that they “follow” on Shopvine becomes available. 

What started as “really just a hobby” to address his own particular supply-demand concerns turned into something much more serious as the COVID-19 crisis arrived. “We put the pedal to the metal,” Zener says. “It really bothers us that local economies are getting hurt so badly. We’d be happy if Shopvine added value.”

As an example, customers could create a profile on the app and set preferences to follow their favorite shops, and specifically certain products, or product types, within those shops. Those preferences can be as broad or specific as a customer prefers, Zener says, from “I want to see everything you’ve got” to “I only want to hear about this one specific product.”

​Zener says he and Arciga are fully aware of the sharp-elbowed social media giants looking to fill the role of the go-between for retailers and their customers, but they believe a localized, mom-and-pop approach will appeal to savvy customers in Mill Valley and the Bay Area.

“Apps like Instagram are good, but you have to be a very active fan of a business or person to catch every single thing they post on their thread,” says Zener, who was born in Oregon and raised in Encinitas by his psychologist father and a mother who was a violinist for the San Francisco Symphony, Zener settled in San Francisco in 1991 and has lived in Marin for many years, painting mostly out of his studio in Sausalito. “This is a private portal where all the info is only what you want and it’s next to impossible to miss because you get a notification.”

Shopvine will eventually have additional features allowing users to share products with other people in the Shopvine community, as well as search for specific products to see who carries them. “Let’s says you happen to be the only person in town who’s never heard of Proof Lab and you’re wondering who carries Al Merrick/Channel Island surfboards,” Zener says. “You can easily find them with a simple product search.”

“We’re sort of throwing spaghetti at the wall and letting the market dictate what happens,” Zener says. “And we absolutely welcome feedback from the community, both the public and retailers.”


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