By Elizabeth Sears
There is a marquee sign on Northampton Street in Easthampton that has become quite the local sensation. This old-fashioned sign has caught the attention of many in the Hampshire County community with its constantly revolving inspirational quotes. It belongs to Cider House Media, a marketing company owned by Lennie and Elizabeth Appelquist, who launched their firm after moving to Easthampton from Los Angeles.
“In 2013, my wife and I ended up moving back here, she grew up here in Easthampton,” Lennie said. His original background was in the film industry, but his hobby in website design ended up developing into its own company. “We still had a lot of clients we were carrying with us, so that’s what we did. We started Cider House here officially.”
Cider House Media provides a wide gamut of marketing services, ranging from branding, website building, and search-engine optimization all the way down to smaller jobs like fixing a website’s e-mail form. No matter how large or small the task, he said, the company focuses on delivering outcomes for whatever needs clients might have.
“At our core, what we really like to do is work with small businesses that matter to their communities, that may not have the resources to do all of the marketing, or the technical expertise to do the website and handle the marketing … but also can’t necessarily afford a really large, big-city firm to take care of all those,” Appelquist said.
The majority of Cider House Media’s clients are local businesses in the Western Mass. region. Its focus has been websites for small businesses that touch their local markets, Appelquist said.
“Our founding belief, our belief that drives us, is that local businesses and small businesses in our towns, not just here in Western Mass. but everywhere, really are the economic drivers of our communities,” he explained. “They’re also a kind of life’s blood. They are what make our communities really awesome, the small businesses, and we just really like to work with them.”
“At our core, what we really like to do is work with small businesses that matter to their communities, that may not have the resources to do all of the marketing, or the technical expertise to do the website and handle the marketing … but also can’t necessarily afford a really large, big-city firm to take care of all those.”
A strong online presence has become a growing need for small businesses as they acclimate to the demands of internet-based consumers. Shortened attention spans paired with the massive shift to remote work brought on by the pandemic has amplified the need for businesses to have fast and efficient websites, Appelquist said.
“We were just having a debate this morning about website loading times,” he told BusinessWest. “The pandemic shed a light on a lot of things, and people really expect a lot out of what they get delivered online, so what they’re looking for trend-wise is a website that loads really quickly. They also want a website that delivers clear information right up front without them having to think too much or dig too deep.”
He explained how savvy consumers not only crave deliverability, but also require accurate information. Cider House Media helps clients take control of their online presence, which involves ensuring the consistency of all representative information found across the web.
“When someone is looking for a service, a product, a restaurant’s hours, the site should load fast, and then there should be a very clear path to the information they’re looking for,” Appelquist said. “A trend we’re seeing with a lot of small businesses is making sure they take control of all of the places where people can interact … their data becomes their brand, and so every touch point on the web, on other third-party websites, on their website, when someone answers the phone at the office, it all becomes representative of what their brand is. If it’s inconsistent, that just says inconsistency to the consumer.”
Cider House Media felt the severe impact the pandemic had on small businesses, experiencing client cancellations and a decline in activity at the beginning of 2020. It had just launched its largest-ever online advertising campaign, and an uncertain marketplace led the Appelquists to question if they were going to survive. However, after a few months, they started to see an interesting shift in their business.
“All of a sudden, every business that was out there trying to figure out a way to reach their clients realized they needed to be online, and they needed to understand what they were doing. They needed to understand how online marketing worked, how their social-media worked, and how ads worked,” Lennie Appelquist said.
This resulted in a transition from their initial decline to a sudden flood of business. It has been almost two years since the Cider House Media staff have been able to get together in the office, but business has essentially stabilized.
“All of a sudden, every business that was out there trying to figure out a way to reach their clients realized they needed to be online, and they needed to understand what they were doing. They needed to understand how online marketing worked, how their social-media worked, and how ads worked.”
Even so, the pandemic has caused them to rework their philosophy and really think about how to help their clients leverage the internet and people’s habits to bring in business while simultaneously facing the obstacle of not being able to utilize a physical retail space. “The marketplace changed along with the world, so we had to be agile and change some of our approach as well.”
Cider House Media’s increase in activity during the pandemic did not stop with the growth of its clientele. “One thing that happened over the pandemic is an interesting market we got into — the community-access TV market,” Appelquist said. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Cider House Media has started five and launched four additional websites for public-access television.
“That’s been a real big education, and since one of the things we really love is to work with businesses, nonprofits, local organizations, arts organizations, touchpoints in our community that make a difference … it was our first experience building something that was a real journalistic news resource. Things like that have been great.”
Cider House Media has been involved in several community-oriented projects, perhaps the most noteworthy and high-profile one being One Ferry Project, a mill-building revitalization project in Easthampton.
“Locally, we launched this year a new brand and website for the One Ferry Project,” Appelquist said. “We did the brand, the logo, the marketing tools, all the signage for the building, the website. The process for potential renters or buyers of space, condos, rental units, office space, we created a mechanism for them to inquire on the website and reach whomever they need to reach.”
Cider House Media has been engaging in its community ever since the couple moved into their office in Easthampton. Lennie and Elizabeth are both members of the Cottage Street Cultural District Committee, and Elizabeth is on the board of the River Valley Co-op, as well as president of the Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton. Additionally, they have been regular participants in the Art Walk put on by Easthampton City Arts, which is a program that features art exhibits and creative performances open to the public.
“When we got our office in Easthampton, we wanted to kind of be part of the community and meet people, so we actually asked the director of Easthampton City Arts if we could be part of the Art Walk and have an artist display their work and have people over, and they were like, ‘absolutely, yes,’” Lennie said. “Almost from the time we opened our office in Easthampton, we were a destination on the Art Walk as well as working with them.”
Lennie and Elizabeth opened an art gallery on Cottage Street in Easthampton as a second business in 2018, helping to celebrate the work of local artists by hosting local art events, spoken word, and poetry. The gallery closed as a result of the pandemic, but Cider House Media still remains committed to supporting the arts in Hampshire County.
“One of the things in Easthampton, but also Pioneer Valley and Western Massachusetts, that I just find so, so amazing is how integral the arts are,” Lennie said. “Art, like commerce, is really important, and I think the art and the culture, and the ability to interact with art and meet the artist, and interact and find those people that you intersect with at those types of events … it’s all your community.”
Word on the Street
Lennie Appelquist spoke of the charm possessed by the walkable towns of Hampshire County, and how small details like connecting over the marquee sign or the local art exhibits creates a positively unique environment. He noted the ample opportunities for networking, partnerships, and synergies, describing a local butcher participating with a night with food at the local brewery. Above all, he emphasized the community-oriented nature of the area, and how gratifying it is to work with businesses in the county.
“All those opportunities that you have to be part of a community, to create community, to interact with community, are really, really important,” he said. “So I think that’s the part we like the most — helping a lot of our clients give voice to what excites them and drives them to do their business, and why they go do it every day.”