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This Aussie website lets you buy 'virtual products' to support small businesses impacted by the bushfires in East Gippsland

Sharon Masige
  • Tenille Bull has created an online platform, It's My Shout, that lets people buy virtual products to support businesses in East Gippsland, Victoria.
  • The region is popular with tourists and has been severely impacted by the bushfires.
  • Bull's online platform has already raised $15,000 since it was created this week.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Wondering how you can help with the bushfire relief effort? Here's one way.

Tenille Bull created 'It's My Shout' an online platform which lets you pay for virtual products to support businesses in East Gippsland, Victoria impacted by the lack of tourism amid the bushfires.

On the site, you can choose to buy a variety of virtual items like coffee, beer, clothes, dinner or even accommodation, with all the proceeds being donated to the respective businesses.

The website includes cafes such as Funkey Monkey Cafe, clothing stores such as Cotton and Style and hotels like The Central Hotel Lakes Entrance. It was created on Tuesday and as of 10am on Thursday, it made more than $15,000 for businesses, with 263 'products' being sold.

Supporting businesses impacted by a drop in tourist numbers

The website is a way to support businesses during the drop in tourism amid the bushfires, especially as Australia's summer season is a popular time for tourists.

East Gippsland is a popular area for holidaymakers during the New Year period, with up to 30,000 people holidaying in Lakes Entrance. When the bushfires came, residents and tourists were told to evacuate the region.

Albert and Co Catering Owner and Director Matthew O'Donnell – whose business is listed on It's My Shout – highlighted the impact of evacuation notice on the region.

"Lakes Entrance is usually booming with tourists at this time of year and when the evacuation note was sent out it has crippled our summer season and has put a lot of business at risk of closing in the year to come," he told Business Insider Australia in an email.

How Bull came up with the idea for It's My Shout

The website's creator Tenille Bull said she runs three Airbnbs in the East Gippsland region as her main source of income. She said she came up with the idea for the site on Monday.

"I was just really upset and I had no idea how I was going to pay my mortgages," Bull told Business Insider Australia in an email. "I had every single booking in January and February cancel, which meant I lost $40,000 of income for January alone. I now can’t pay my mortgages and I’m looking at having to sell. That $40,000 pays my three properties mortgages for the whole entire year."

Bull also thought about the financial pain other small businesses in the region – and other bushfire affected areas – would be going through, and how it would affect tourism.

She said the idea "snowballed into how someone could potentially buy a virtual night's accommodation to support a hotel that had lost all of their customers." This idea then expanded into getting more businesses involved and getting people to buy other products like virtual coffee and meals.

"I didn’t want businesses to sell an actual physical product that had to be served, posted or redeemed, as I didn’t want to put businesses under any undue stress with the current situation they are currently facing," Bull said.

Following this inkling, Bull said she posted about her idea in the Facebook group "Like-minded bitches drinking wine" and had over 170 comments with messages of support. That's where Bull partnered with Shop My Town founder Melody Jarvis to get the site up and running in 24 hours. Shop My Town aims to connect "people back to their local traders" and describes itself as "like the eBay for your local area".

"Melody’s hometown of Stanthorpe is still recovering from the September fires in QLD," she said. "So she is passionate about helping small businesses in rural areas."

Bull explained that the money goes directly into a business' bank or PayPal account – she isn't charging any extra surcharge.

"It’s all going straight to the businesses affected," she said.

Since creating the site, Bull has also seen a lot of support from the very businesses she wanted to support.

"What I found has been incredible, businesses off their own back are paying it forward and actually donating meals that people have bought. They are donating coffees and donating certain percentages of what they’ve received to the CFA. So this incredible impact has an ongoing rolling effect."

Businesses on It's My Shout have their say

Sharen Cameron owns women's clothing store Willow Collective Boutique in Lakes Entrance, which is listed on the site.

Cameron told Business Insider Australia in an email, "In summer, our tiny town of around 5000 people swells to over 30,000 people with our town thriving on tourism. Many businesses receive up to 90% of their annual income from this tourist season."

But with tourists being told to evacuate for safety reasons, she said Lakes Entrance "is a ghost town".

"Last week should have been my biggest trading week of the year," Cameron said. "It was on par with one of our lowest weeks in winter."

On Cameron's 'It's My Shout' page, you can "shout" a lady who may have lost her home and her belongings a new dress, outfit or wardrobe. On Wednesday, Cameron said she has received more than $600.

Another company listed on the site is the Sandbar Motel. Kellie Makowski, who owns the business with her husband Joe, told Business Insider Australia in an email she was one of the first businesses to register.

"Being in a community that relies heavily on the summer trade we know that a lot of businesses will not survive the year as we have already had a tough winter right through to the 20th December," Makowski said.

"We were all trying to think of ways to help our businesses being impacted by the East Gippsland bushfires and that's when Tenielle put a shout out to what she was doing and we just jumped on board," she said. "When you have had all bookings cancel right into February you need to hang onto something, and this was that something."

Makowski said the business has had a "fantastic response" with virtual dollars being donated as well as emails and calls of support.

"It's amazing to know there [are] so many people out there that want to genuinely help out in times of need."

As the website only started on Tuesday, Makowski said the funds haven't reached her account yet but they will start to receive the donations in 2-3 days.

"It's a sigh of relief knowing we will be able to pay some of our fixed monthly bills in our motel, we only took over eight months ago and we did all the business plans and budgets but nothing could have prepared us for this," Makowski said.

Albert and Co's Matthew O'Donnell said his business offers the "Coffee for a Hero" option for emergency personnel, fire-affected victims and relief volunteers. It lets you pre-purchase 5-10 coffees for these heros, 'So when they come in and order a coffee we can say "Its My Shout'", O'Donnell said.

To date, Albert and Co has received more than 200 purchases, totalling 1500 coffees.

Bull said the support from shoppers has been "incredible".

"The outpouring of love from our shoppers has been so heartfelt. We’ve had customers calling up the businesses that they’re purchasing from and sharing their stories of when they’ve been through tough times and how they’d love to support that business."

It shows Aussies are more than willing to lend a helping hand.

Read more: Here are 8 ways you can donate money to Australia’s bushfire relief effort
Read more: Celeste Barber's bushfire fundraiser on Facebook is officially the largest in the platform's history, raising over $40 million
Read more: A list of the Aussie celebrities and sportspeople pledging big donations to bushfire relief efforts

UPDATE 14/1/20 12.35: Albert and Co is no longer listed on the It’s My Shout site, but is continuing its “Shout A Hero” initiative