Monday, September 17, 2007

Sunshine is where the savings are

Fishers cyber-entrepreneur hosts online shopping community from home

Like many stay-at-home moms on a budget, Rachel Brolsma of Noblesville turned to the Internet for money-saving solutions for everyday living. But with a whole universe of sites dedicated to bargain hunting, which ones are trustworthy?

“A lot of times online you kind of question different businesses that you go into and you can run into problems,” Brolsma said.

Then she found, an online shopping community where Brolsma not only finds discounts but earns cash back on purchases. The site is the brainchild of Tricia Meyer of Fishers.

Like Brolsma, Meyer is a stay-at-home mom. From a cozy office tucked between her 4- and 6-year-old daughters’ bedrooms, the former lawyer turned cyber-entrepreneur guides Sunshine members through an expansive array of retailers offering bargains. Members can find anything from Apple Computers to Zales diamonds.

“We’re a loyalty community,” Meyer said. “You have two choices. You can either join as a member and be a full part of the community, or you can just come in to do your shopping and you’ll still get all the same discounts, same coupons as everybody else, you just won’t get the cash back rewards. If you join as a member, it’s free to sign up.”

Meyer isn’t a middle man. She doesn’t process any transactions. Members scan discounts and cash back rewards from a list of hundreds of retailers like Barnes & Noble, Dell Computers, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Hyatt Hotels.

Once they’ve found what they want, they click over to the retailer’s site and purchase directly from them.

Meyer earns fees from the retailers for every Sunshine Rewards member who clicks over to the retailer’s site from the Sunshine Rewards site. She then splits the fees with her members. Cash back rewards can range from 1 percent to as much as 15 percent. Brolsma is taking her rewards to Disney World.

“A lot of my rewards have helped me pay for almost a third of our trip that we’re getting ready to take on Friday,” she said.

Membership has grown mainly through cyber buzz about the service. Since going online two years ago, more than 6,500 members nationwide have joined. Meyer expects the company to earn approximately $500,000 this year.

The site includes a message board where members can clue each other in to deals, share ideas, rate retailers or simply chat about various topics. Members can also earn money taking online surveys through the site.

“We add coupons like crazy. We add coupons all day, every day,” Meyer said. “A lot of them are exclusive coupons that we work directly with the companies to exclusive so they can’t get them anywhere else except from us.”

With the holidays coming up, Meyer has added new features to the site to help members find the products they are looking for faster. But for Brolsma, just knowing there is a real person to go to for help is what makes Sunshine Rewards her first stop when she’s out to shop.

“If there is even one little thing that you have a question on, she’s just so quick to get back to you,” Brolsma said. “She’s personal with every single person on there.”

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