Heather Chandler launched The Sunrise Guide in 2006, inspired by the Pacific Northwest’s Chinook Book. In case you haven’t encountered one, it’s a fat book of coupons with discounts to various green businesses, from restaurants and yoga studios to home improvements. “Only the best healthy, local and green businesses in Maine” is the Sunrise promise. We called up Chandler to find out how she built her business from scratch, the expansion of the Sunrise brand and what the most popular coupon of all time is.

BACKGROUND CHECK: Chandler lived in Northampton, Massachusetts, until 7th grade. “That’s probably where my social responsibility roots were born,” she said. “Being in that hotbed of activism. We went to every single march that ever went down Main Street.” Then her family, originally from Maine, moved to Raymond.

As an adult, she lived in Boston and Denver and spent time with AmeriCorps and in the health care marketing field. “I had come to a place in my career where I realized I needed a change,” she said. While on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, she picked up the Chinook Book, a coupon book of the same genre that caters to Seattle and the other Portland. “I fell in love with the concept,” she said. She began toying with the idea of launching her own version in Maine. She was nervous, though, not having a business background. “It just kept taunting me,” she said, until she made the leap.

BEGINNINGS: Back in 2006, she had one employee (now there are three, plus part-time seasonal help) and a mock-up of the final product to show businesses. It wasn’t easy. “It was pretty much pounding the pavement,” Chandler said. “Lots of long days and eating pizza.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME? She wanted to give her coupon book a Maine-specific term, and it needed to be positive. Nothing about mosquitoes or cold winters. Then it dawned (sorry!) on her. “The sun rises first in Maine,” she said.

CHANGE DOES YOU GOOD: That first year, The Sunrise Guide included 128 coupons. “Now we have 220,” Chandler said. “And we just launched a mobile edition. It’s a Web app that basically delivers the book on your phone.” The mobile book debuted on New Year’s Day and already has been purchased by 500 users. The app costs $14.95, versus $20 for the actual book. “We think it is going to appeal to a whole new demographic,” Chandler said. “Folks who haven’t had the paper edition before or maybe gave it up and now want a new way to try it again.”


AVERAGE BUYER: What is the demographic for The Sunrise Guide? Yarmouth? “It is very strongly female,” Chandler said. The typical buyer of the guide is 35 to 55 and higher than average in terms of income and education. “But it changes,” Chandler said. “It has leveled out more over the last few years. It was a little more exclusive, but that’s balancing out. Sustainability is of more interest to more people than it used to be.” She also publishes the Green & Healthy Maine Visitor’s Guide, geared at tourists with an interest in sustainable living. The Sunrise Guide can be “overkill” for the visitor with just two weeks in the state.

TREND WATCHER: In the time she’s been in business, talk of sustainability has become not just trendy but practically the norm. For Chandler, watching the evolution of Maine’s local food production has been particularly notable. “Our awareness of food and where it comes from is a huge trend right now.” So is yoga. “I think there were three yoga studios in Portland when I started and now I’ve got to think there are 25 to 30 studios, and every gym teaches yoga. That is a huge shift.”

SHIFTING VALUES: Back in 2006, the language around the products featured in the Sunrise coupons tended to focus on the “green” label. That’s what mattered. “Now I feel like we are making better arguments that you should buy our products because it is going to save you money in the long run,” she said. “And support your local community.”

BORDER TOWN: Has Chandler ever considered expanding into neighboring states? She said she was approached once by someone who wanted to spin off The Sunrise Guide in Connecticut, and friends urge her to publish a Sunrise for New Hampshire or Massachussetts “all the time.” But that’s not happening. “To me it is a totally different business at that point,” she said. “I’d much rather expand the depth here and have it be all about Maine.”

NEXT UP: Chandler is working on the launch of Green & Healthy Maine Homes, which will cater to the Mainer looking for efficiencies at home. And maybe eventually the paper version of The Sunrise Guide will be replaced by the electronic version.

But she’s not rushing. When customers were surveyed, “we heard pretty loud and clear from our current users, ‘Please don’t take the book away.’ ”

MOST LIKELY TO CLIP: What’s the most popular Sunrise coupon of all time? “Probably the free chicken at Hannaford,” Chandler said. It was maybe 2010, she thought. The chicken was done rotisserie style. It was all natural, antibiotic-free, all that good stuff. “Other than that, people love the yoga coupons.”

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