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Aaron Elliott prefers to do his work behind the scenes.
“Behind the scenes, 100 percent,” Elliott said about his personality, adding he’s an introvert in his basement. “I feel like I’m a behind-the-scenes guy who keeps the gears going.”
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic started to rear its head, shutting down schools, businesses and familiar life, Elliott knew he had to step up. The Wilmington High School graduate and web developer offered up his services with a simple pitch on Facebook — if any of his business owner friends needed a way to let customers pay online, he’d try to help set up a payment platform. If a business needed a way to accept payment online or a demo website, he’d set that up too.
And he was going to do it for free.
It was all part of a pay-it-forward effort by Elliott, as well as a way to continue his family’s donation of time to Lawrence County.
“I had the means to do it,” Elliott said. “If I sat here on my hands, I would have felt guilty about it.”
He put the message out a few different times. By now, there are about 20 businesses from the county and slightly beyond its borders using Elliott’s platform.
“I had some people right away interested,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it after that. I built the platform and online ordering systems so it could be replicated easily.”
Elliott and his family have roots in New Castle and Lawrence County dating back to his great-great grandfather, Noah, who, with his brother George, started Elliott Bros. Steel Co. His grandparents were involved in the county serving on boards and were business owners. Make no doubt, the Elliotts are long in Lawrence County history.
Elliott, after graduating from Wilmington in 1995, spent some time at Penn State University before realizing that wasn’t for him. Then he worked his way to become a data analyst, and didn’t like the idea of sitting in a desk in a cubicle.
Using his self-taught skills of coding, he realized the opportunity businesses needed moving into the new millennium. So he started building — websites, servers and networks.
“I taught myself everything,” he said.
He started Forward Trends in 2000, which he operates out of his Hickory Township residence he shares with his wife, Jennifer, a special assistant to the CEO at the Lawrence County Community Action Partnership, and daughter Lexi, who is finishing up her junior year at Laurel High School.
The business became an LLC in the late-2000s. He’s done work for corporations in cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland working on logos, branding, marketing strategy, photography, e-commerce and more.
PAY IT FORWARD
Some Lawrence County restaurants have partnered with various third-party payment platforms, which let users scroll through menus and make a dinner order online. However, those services — like Uber Eats or DoorDash — take a surcharge fee.
And if a restaurant or other business only had one or two phone lines, that could mean busy signals and lost sales. Those were things Elliott’s platform could fix.
“How much business are they losing because their phone is busy or because they don’t want to walk in or give their credit card over the phone?” Elliott asked. “All the big boys are making tons of money. I’m here to give that to the little guys as much as possible.”
Elliott hosts the websites and payment platforms on a dedicated server, all free of cost — even though hosting fees on the servers cost about $300. The server did crash once, on a Friday, which was fixed by that Sunday after about two days straight of work.
“I also patronize all these restaurants and want to see them survive, if not thrive, during these weird times,” Elliott said. “I look at it as we’re all in this together, and it’s for the good of New Castle and Lawrence County. It’s simply my way of giving back to the people, businesses and city that I love.
By now, Elliott spends about 10 hours a week maintaining the websites and making sure everything is working correctly. When businesses start to reopen, they can ditch the platform or continue to use it.
“Everyone’s been saying it’s pretty easy to use,” Elliott said. “The restaurants themselves have had great feedback once they get over the learning curve.”
He estimates more than $160,000 of revenue has gone through the platform so far. While many of the businesses using the platform are restaurants, other businesses like barber shops and hair salons are capitalizing on ways to sell gift cards while still being closed to walk-in traffic. Apple Castle, which is providing curbside service and grocery pickup, is one user of Elliott’s platform.
Even New Castle — the city — is benefitting from Elliott’s work. After years of talk that city hall was going to have a new website, New Castle’s updated website finally went live earlier this year after sitting unused for months. Then, just in time for golf season, the city-owned Sylvan Heights Golf Course’s website went live as well.
He created both websites for free and hosts them at no charge as well.
Elliott said he’s now that “trusted guy” to people working in city hall. He, meanwhile, still thinks of himself as the introvert working from the basement.