By Steve Yablonski
Owner of website iHeartOswego.com celebrates 10 years in business; she explains how it all started and announces she is selling the business
Q: When was iHeart Oswego launched?
A: Nov. 3, 2012. So this is our 10th anniversary coming up and that’s exciting!
Q: Why did you start this kind of business?
A: Coming back to Oswego from having been gone for 27 years, I asked friends, “Where do you find events happening here?” The answer was: ‘There is nothing to do here, Oswego sucks.’ I thought, that’s absolutely impossible; of course there are things happening here every single day. Oswego is a wonderful place to grow up, to raise your own family and to retire to. So I contacted the chamber of commerce, Oswego County Tourism and the city of Oswego. They all confirmed that no, there was no central place to find all events, online or in the local newspaper. I felt an overwhelming need to help Oswego move forward. My husband, Phil Gailinas, and I had just relocated from a very progressive and successful small city in New Hampshire where we owned a website development, event creation and marketing company: iHeart Corp. We could help Oswego.
Q: Have you ever done anything like this before?
A: Starting new organizations is kind of our thing. We established the first women’s flat track roller derby leagues in Manchester in 2007 and Peterborough, New Hampshire, in 2008. We also organized the Oz Roller Girls in 2010 roller derby here in Oswego while we were still in New Hampshire. We created our website development and marketing company in 2005. Overall, we have created more than eight businesses and organizations in the last 20 years. But never have we produced or found another media organization quite like or even close to iHeartOswego.com. It is one of a kind — truly unique.
Q: How much did you invest to start? Have you invested more over the years?
A: For us, money is really never a consideration when we are in developing community projects like iHeartOswego or roller derby. We started with zero dollars in and had to generate funds through the website advertising to cover all expenses. We have never taken any loans to help fund iHeartOswego or any other volunteer organization we have created. These organizations are run by volunteers, myself included. We already have the in-house talent to create what we need to start. The website, revenue streams, graphic design or marketing plans. Our company iHeart Corp would fund it. We created advertising spaces on the iHeartOswego.com website. The ads pay for the overhead; but have the potential and ability to fully fund iHeartOswego as an entity, unto itself.
Q: What does the business do? How has it evolved?
A: iHeartOswego.com website and the iHeartOswego (social media) were developed to be an online ‘good news’ city-zine and volunteer organization. If the events or stories were happy, fun and positive, we wanted to publish it.
We also wanted and Oswego needed, a comprehensive online calendar that carried all events in Oswego. From bingo to Harborfest, we would let people know what was happening and where. Then we would attend the events and publish the pictures to our social media outlets so that people could see themselves having fun in Oswego. And for those that couldn’t be there, to visualize the fun they would have at the next event they attended. We wanted to create the “desire to be there” and we have.
Originally, iHeartOswego was confined to the city limits in event listings and our photo coverage, as we only had two volunteers. We now cover from South to North: Phoenix to Oswego and East to West: Mexico to Sterling. We have nine volunteer photographers, journalists and drone operators. We have 15 additional contributors and our door is always open to anyone who’d like to join us. Area schools from time to time will form ambassador groups with iHeartOswego, attending events and photographing them, and social media posting, in order to learn important social skills.
Q: How difficult was it in the early days to get things going? When did you know it was going to be a success?
A: There is always some difficulty starting a new organization but there was such a need for what we do and people were so appreciative of the information we provided, that we were successful within the first year.
Q: How many staff members do you have?
A: iHeart Corp has two, our CEO Phil Gailinas and myself. I run iHeartOswego myself, as a volunteer organization.
Q: What’s the best part of your job?
A: I have been able to personally meet thousands of residents in Oswego and have been able to help countless organizations obtain better exposure to their audience and attendance to events, benefits, or store-wide sales in downtown businesses. We are privileged to work closely with locally owned and operated businesses in providing free promotions, grand opening and milestone ribbon cuttings as community partners with the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, doing what we can to bring attention to them.
What I love most, is being an integral part of our community for the benefit of residents and the tourism effort. And our photographers! We wouldn’t be here without the photos and dedication from Harrison Wilde, Jerry Maher, Sandy Swiech, Mary Woods and so many others.
Q: What’s the not-so-good part?
A: When photographers move on to other endeavors. Sometimes it’s their career, school or a life event that takes our place in their life. We all consider ourselves family, so it’s always sad when someone has to leave us.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: Well, my “free” time is given to volunteering for iHeartOswego uploading to the calendar and covering events. But, at night, for an hour or so, I like to design and build women’s purses. It is relaxing and stress-relieving.
Q: How would you describe your business philosophy?
A: We believe in the ‘art’ of service. Paying attention to our clients and being available when they need us is key to our website development business and we provide the same service to our iHeartOswego followers. Treat people honestly and with respect for their time; to go beyond what is expected, whenever possible—that’s service!
Last, but not least in any way, is giving back to your community. That is what iHeartOswego is all about.
Q: Any thoughts of slowing down or retiring?
A: I’m glad you asked that question. While I will most likely never retire, as it happens we are currently looking for the next leader of iHeartOswego.com and the iHeartOswego social media organization. We are for sale. We have not officially announced that as yet but some already know that I’d like to actually like to form iHeartOswego as its own entity and step down by the end of next summer at the latest.
The iHeart Corp website development company will go on as it always has and will remain with us, we can take that anywhere and iHeartOswego.com will transform to either a sole proprietorship or a nonprofit of one form or another. It will be sold with the online advertising revenue stream along the full website and all the social media outlets. Currently iHeartOswego’s Facebook page has 23,000 followers and continues to grow. We have the largest Facebook audience in the county.
iHeartOswego is something that must go on, people count on us to bring them all things wonderful in the greater Oswego area, with the most comprehensive online calendar ever published. And we do that very well.