"It's like dynamite," says Jay Goltz, a Chicago business owner and blogger for The New York Times. He had 900 customers respond to his Groupon ad, but is unsure how many were already customers. In addition, he questions how many people will return to his stores as repeat customers. "It's a great invention, but it could blow up your house," he adds. "I wouldn't predict the end of the bulletin board."
The old world and the new world collide at Newport Coffee House here in Bannockburn, Ill. The bulletin board is so crowded that a table is positioned nearby to catch the overflow. While waiting in line for coffee, customers can check out the Pet Pal dog-walking service or pick up a schedule of language classes.
"We get about one or two businesses a day asking to post on our board," says owner Nevair Jindoyan.
However, after perusing the bulletin board, many customers grab a coffee, sit down with friends, pull out smart phones, and scroll for deals.
"Ooh," says a customer checking her BlackBerry, "I can get $50 off on a $100 massage from Groupon today." Another customer scrolls down to WeDeal and reveals the day's discount to the rest of the table.
There are many other deals available online. Foursquare, a mobile social-networking game, allows members to "check in" at local businesses and receive "specials," which are discounts for loyal customers. A business can tap into this by offering tips at various places where would-be customers congregate. "For instance, a fitness trainer could build [his or her] following by offering tips at various gyms around the city," says Erin Gleason, Foursquare's spokeswoman.
LivingSocial, another daily-deal site with more than 10 million subscribers, offers ways to blend small businesses to take advantage of online advertising. "It may not be that we have the organic farmer, but we can work with the organic farmer and the local winery to create a tailored package," says Korina Buhler, a spokeswoman for LivingSocial.
Ms. Pinsof Nolan, owner of The Organic Gardener, recently developed a website and has considered Groupon. But she continues to get most of her customers from her old standby, the flier with the tear-off phone numbers at the bottom.
"There's nothing like seeing something right in front of your face," says Regina Ruggiero, whose company, New York Blackboard of New Jersey, has been making bulletin boards since 1944.
And sometimes the old technology actually trumps the new one.
"I'm thinking of canceling my online dating service," says Judy Brinkerhoff-Smith, who paints portraits of families and their pets. Her bulletin board brochure prompted 30 calls from single men, and she ended up dating one of the callers. She welcomes the calls and says, "We are all just trying to make a connection."