Service planning to expand its reach

A Charleston veterinary practice is praised for its "friendly and courteous" service. But a local car dealership gets low marks for its "pushy sales people."

Those comments are among the roughly 3,000 local business reviews that Lowcountry consumers have posted on since it launched in May. The free service lets users search an online database of area businesses and, in some cases, read others' opinions and ratings of those companies.

The site initially was marketed in the Charleston region, but organizers are planning a statewide push.

PalmettoBizBuzz was created by Evening Post Digital, a division of Charleston-based Evening Post Publishing Co., the parent company of The Post and Courier and other media outlets. It is operated separately and independently from the newspaper.

BizBuzz is similar to an online Yellow Pages but with the added value of consumer reviews, said Ward Lassoe, president of Evening Post Digital. "It's electronic word-of-mouth," he said.

Submissions are reviewed by a BizBuzz employee before being posted on the site to ensure that they meet guidelines for length and appropriate content.

Although about 230,000 businesses from around the state are already listed on the BizBuzz directory, the company is trying to build up a "critical mass" of reviews before kicking off a statewide promotional campaign this fall, Lassoe said.

BizBuzz teams are now gathering those reviews from consumers in major South Carolina markets including the Upstate, Midlands and Grand Strand areas.

The Web site includes listings for all types of enterprises and organizations, from retailers to contractors to churches.

Businesses automatically get a free basic BizBuzz listing, which includes the company name, address, phone number and map. They can update such information as needed.

For a monthly fee, companies can upgrade to two levels of premium listings and add content, such as a link to their Web site and online coupons. A premium listing also allows the business to post responses to customer reviews. The cost is now $5 a month for a silver listing and $15 a month for gold. Starting Sept. 15, those rates will rise to $10 and $25, respectively.

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Local medical practice Access Healthcare is among the companies that have encouraged customers to use the BizBuzz service as a way to compile anonymous feedback about their business.

"I've been pleased with the reviews that have come back," said Jennifer Pullano, a family physician who heads the practice's Mount Pleasant office. The "retail medicine" company, which also has an office in downtown Charleston, offers pay-as-you-go health care services, designed to shorten waiting-room times and offer more individualized attention, she said.

While the office has received all positive reviews so far, Pullano said she would view negative comments as guidance on how the company could improve.

BizBuzz recently got some competition with the arrival of Angie's List in the local market. The company runs a Web-based service that catalogs homeowners' experiences with local service companies such as plumbers or roofers.

But Lassoe said BizBuzz has several advantages: It's free, while Angie's List users typically pay a monthly or annual fee after a trial period; and Angie's List is a national site with local chapters and covers solely home service businesses, whereas Biz Buzz is focused on South Carolina and covers all types of enterprises.

Evening Post Digital plans to add new features to the BizBuzz site in the future, such as the ability to sort searches by rating (ranked from 1 to 5 stars) and listings of the most popular search categories.