WOODBRIDGE, Va. — ST Billingsley and Scott Whitling, who operate two tire dealerships in Woodbridge, have made supporting local charities a second business, literally.
In 2015, their company, B&W Associates, launched an award-winning online news site, "What's Up Prince William" (wupw.news), that publicizes the activities and fundraising events of local nonprofit organizations as well as feature local businesses and people doing good works in Prince William County.
Mr. Billingsley said he was involved in several nonprofits, including the chamber of commerce and community organizations, but wanted to do more to help fundraising events.
"We needed a way for our community to be able to talk about nonprofits and promote their events and their fundraisers and really just talk about what they do on a consistent basis. And also do it for them for no charge whatsoever. So that is kind of how it got started," he said.
B&W Associates operates two auto repair shops: HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire and Steve's Auto Repair & Tire, both in Woodbridge and located just 50 yards apart from each other.
With a small studio inside the HomeTowne office and the help of two full-time and two part-time employees, WUPW posts hundreds of in-house-produced videos and written content on its website and on social media platforms.
Mr. Billingsley estimates it costs the dealership about $100,000 a year to run the website operation. Unlike typical newsites that support their online operations with advertising, WUPW is financially supported by the dealership.
"It gives us a way to be out in the community all the time," he said, adding, "We like doing it. Even when it's been difficult and we want to say 'Let's just hang it up,' it's the part that we do for the nonprofits that makes it worthwhile. It's rewarding and we like doing it."
The site serves a dual purpose. While a majority of the content highlights community nonprofits, about 5% to 10% features automotive service content. The only advertising B&W does is through the taglines indicating the website is sponsored by the two dealerships.
Mr. Billingsley's wife Karen manages the website and the dealership employs Erin Flynn as editor of the content, a part-time video editor and another part-time employee who also works as a part-time shuttle driver for the dealerships.
The dealership has also partnered with Northern Virginia Community College to have student interns help produce some videos and content.
Mr. Billingsley estimates he spends about 15 to 20 hours a week himself taking video and photos of events for the website "and 50 hours at the shop!" he added.