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Greenville Business Magazine

Greenville Startup Surcee Builds Bridge Between Local Shoppers, Merchants

Jun 14, 2023 12:43PM ● By David Caraviello

Allan Symonette will admit — he was a terrible gift-giver. “Just terrible, horrible,” he recalled. “Every now and then I would hit one out of the park, but I would have to live on that for a couple of years.”

His frustration was the impetus that eventually led to the current incarnation of, a startup based in Greenville that has entered the $30K Power Up competition hosted by Integrated Media Publishing and Erik Weir. Surcee acts as a conduit between shoppers and local merchants; visitors to the site can find hundreds of items from Greenville stores like A Polished Man and Pink Bee, and are able to click through to the vendor’s website where they can buy the product online.

“What you see now is all about shopping local, discovering local, supporting local, browsing local,” said Symonette, a South Florida native who has called Greenville home since 1992. “I mean, the big, hairy, audacious goal is to be a local alternative to Amazon. We’re not saying Amazon doesn’t have a place. But if you love local, it’s not the first place.”

Inspired by his poor track record of gift-giving, Symonette in 2017 first envisioned Surcee — the word is Southern slang for a “just because” gift — to be a site where people could detail what types of gifts or charitable donations they wanted on special occasions. The pivot came after a meeting with Steve Johnson, investment manager at the accelerator SC Launch. Johnson advised Symonette to gear the website toward local merchants, whose brick-and-mortar establishments were struggling to compete against giant online retailers.

“And then Covid hit,” said Symonette, Surcee’s CEO and founder. “And now I’m seeing businesses in my hometown that are struggling, that are being put out of business. All of them are closed, nobody knew what was going on. I saw merchant friends of mine struggling, either with their brick-and-mortar stores or their online presence, or both. And so I went back to Steve and said, ‘You know what? Let’s talk more about that.’”

‘An easy rallying cry to get behind’ 

The current iteration of, launched in 2021, got started thanks to a grant from SC Launch and a low-interest loan from the Greenville Local Development Council. Today, Surcee curates items from local merchants to feature on its website, compiles gift guides for holidays or special occasions, and showcases its clients in blogs, videos, a weekly newsletter, and social media posts.

According to the company, its audience is comprised mainly of women aged between 24 and 65 who want to support local businesses. The merchants featured on Surcee are local retail boutique stores that at present must sell products online.

“We have a really cool city, and the heartbeat of that city is our local merchants,” Symonette said. “These are folks that sponsor our T-ball teams, and we’re so quick to go to Amazon because it’s easy and convenient. Every focus group we’ve done has told us that local ladies and men who live here, they want to shop local. There’s lots of data out there supporting that notion. And that’s kind of an easy rallying cry to get behind.”

The key is driving traffic to the website. According to the company, over a recent three-month span Surcee saw 4,148 page views, 926 direct website visitors, 220 visitors from social media, and 750 gift guide views. On social media, Instagram is the company’s biggest content vehicle. “We’re starting to gain traction in Greenville,” Symonette said.

30 cities, $2 million in revenue by 2028?

So much so, that the company is exploring an expansion into Spartanburg. Just as a partnership with the Greenville Chamber helped Surcee get off the ground in Greenville, Symonette is talking with OneSpartanburg about including that city’s downtown merchants on the site. Surcee’s current revenues are $28,000, according to the company; by the end of 2028, Surcee projects to be in 20 cities and reach $2.16 million in revenues.

Those figures “were kind of conservative,” Symonette said. “But we’re sooner to go into another city than I thought. We could be in Spartanburg in three or four months, and that is ahead of projections. We would like to be in two cities by the end of this year, and start doubling that every year. You’re never going to see us in Boston or San Antonio or Phoenix. It’s Greenville, it’s Asheville, it’s Columbia, it’s Charleston. Those are the places where some of these local businesses struggle, and where we can help.”

In the meantime, Symonette continues his day job with a medical device sales firm, and works on Surcee in his spare time with help from a handful of team members including fractional chief technical and marketing officers. The top finisher in the $30K Power Up competition will win $15,000, while second place earns $10,000 and third place $5,000. Symonette knows just what he’d do with the funding: give Surcee its own shopping cart.

“That would be big,” he said. “Right now, I have to send you to the local merchant’s website to complete a sale, which is fine. But it’s not ideal. What is ideal is having a Surcee cart so you can shop multiple merchants at the same time, and buy them through us. If we have a cart, we can even have merchants that don’t have a website on our site, because we could set them up with a store. If we win this contest, that is exactly what we would do — build a cart so we can bring more merchants onto Surcee that we currently can’t.”