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Jen Giese at Photojojo
Small Business

4 small businesses using social media to connect with customers

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Small Business Week 2015

NRF is celebrating Small Business Week — May 4-8, 2015 — with special events and insightful stories that show what it’s really like to be a small retailer. Learn more and join the #retailissmallbiz conversation.

During NRF’s Retail Across America trips, our This is Retail film crew visits businesses large and small to see what retail is really like in cities across the country. On camera and behind the scenes, retail executives and small business owners share their hopes, challenges and advice, and after road trips through eight different states, we’ve spotted some common themes.

Small businesses have to work especially hard to reach customers, and some of the savvy entrepreneurs we’ve visited are using social media to build their brands and their own distinct communities. Here’s a look at some of our favorite success stories.

Seattle illustrator and designer Moorea Seal developed a large following on Pinterest before she opened her own store. “I love talking with the handmade community and getting to know people in it. I thought, ‘Well, let’s meld all these things and start an online store,’” Seal says. That was in 2013. Two short years later, Seal’s eponymous brand has more than 900,000 followers on Pinterest and another 19,000 on Instagram.

“Instagram is the quickest way to let people know we aren’t just a business, but a community that’s inclusive and encouraging through fashion-forward style and philanthropic work,” Seal recently told her partners at Curalate, a company that provides a “Like2Buy” service to help brands like Seal’s grow their revenue through Instagram.

Photojojo, an online retailer that sells smartphone accessories and camera “goodies” to photography enthusiasts, is a small e-commerce operation with a big personality. This San Francisco-based company started in 2006 as an email newsletter focused on “the very best photo tips, DIY projects and gear.” The brand has grown to include a popular online store that also offers a “disposable camera” iPhone app and “Phoneography 101” course.

Chief Everything Officer Jen Giese uses her company’s digital presence — 400,000+ followers on Twitter, 73,000+ on Instagram and 230,000+ on Facebook — to cultivate “real life” connections through meetups, events and pop-up shops. “I personally am really into taking experiences online and bringing them into real life situations. I think people are just really hungry to take what they’re doing on Instagram and sharing online into real life … We’ve always had a really great following of people that are really inspired and active,” Giese says.

In Frankfort, Ky., The Woolery’s 10,000-square-foot warehouse and retail space is a resource for knitters, spinners and other fiber artists. Owner Chris Miller says 95 percent of the company’s business is online, but because his 19-person team offers classes and an inspiring showroom, artists and hobbyists from around the world consider the bricks-and-mortar storefront a destination.

The Woolery has “continued to grow rapidly and thrive, due to their incredible online sales network,” says Brittain Skinner, executive director of Downtown Frankfort. In fact, the family-owned company’s vendors say it’s the largest fiber arts supplier in the world, and some of its popularity is due to community-building on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest, as well as niche networks like Ravelry and Weavolution.

Lauren and Josiah Lowe started making soy candles a few years ago, and expanded their business to include a retail storefront that sells handcrafted items from more than 90 artists. “We’re a place to come for a birthday gift and get a card and a gift, and then you go on your way to happy hour and hang out with your friends. We have a lot of people just from the neighborhood coming in,” Lauren says.

What brings those customers into The Burlap Bag in Austin, Texas? Many times, it’s a post on Instagram. “Social media has been an amazing part of our business. We just Instagram … ‘We got a new mug,’ and the next day we’ll have people come in and buy [the mugs]. Instagram has really changed business,” Lauren says.

The couple tries to mix personal posts — including photos of their cats and daughter — with product images, lifestyle photos and more promotional posts. Josiah says he’d recommend social media to other businesses like theirs: “Focus on social media and try to figure out the right way to do it for you, because it can be really, really valuable.”

Do your favorite local retailers use social media in a fun and interesting way? Let us know — leave a comment below or send a tweet to @NRFnews and use the #retailissmallbiz hashtag.


Retail Across America
Retail Across America street

We set out on a road trip to find the most powerful retail stories across the United States, showing how retailers large and small are creating jobs, driving innovation and giving back to the communities they serve. This is Retail Across America.

Small Business Retail Council

The Small Business Retail Council (SBRC) represents and is responsive to the needs, concerns and interests of local shops, and provides NRF’s small business members a forum to discuss the most pressing public policy issues and priorities.

Retail's Impact
U.S. map

Find out how the retail industry impacts jobs, income and GDP in your state. View the map and check out the data.