“Going Strong and Growing Because of Social Media” – A Small Business Success Story

Encore Unique Boutique is a local, family operated business, located in Downtown Shawnee, Kansas. In business since June 2003, owner Tamara Hudson describes the store as a “women’s boutique that dresses you and your home.”

Encore owner, Tamara Hudson, and husband Josh

While many local downtown businesses struggle to compete, Encore has thrived – recently expanding in to an adjacent retail space to add a personal styling studio, selling their goods in five other locations in the Kansas City area, and creating a loyal online customer base.

A key part of Encore’s success has been the way in which the business owner Tamara Hudson has embraced social media. She describes social media as something that has “completely changed” her business and not only helps amplify word of mouth and referrals, but is a tool that directly drives sales.

Social: IRL recently spoke with Tamara to learn more about the impact of social media on her business. In the interview published below, small business owners will find encouragement, inspiration, and valuable insights and advice on the practical ways social media can help their business reach new customers, grow relationships with existing customers, help turn customers in to loyal brand advocates, and ultimately drive sales and grow business.

When did you start using social media as a business tool for Encore? What were the first steps you took as a business owner who, at the time, didn’t even use social media on a personal level?

I started using social media, specifically Facebook, in December of 2009. I was forced to. A client and friend, who I adore, set up a page for me and told me that I absolutely HAD to be on Facebook. I didn’t  even have a personal Facebook page. I didn’t think I had the time to do Facebook. I even asked her if she would “manage” the page for me, and she refused. She said I needed to be interacting with my clients  because that was going to sell more clothing and reach more people for me. So, reluctantly I asked her about how much time I needed to commit to it.  She recommended 30 min every morning and 30 minutes every evening. For the next two weeks, I watched a few other business pages, set up a personal page for myself, and reluctantly made 2 or 3 posts on the Encore page. Those few posts generated almost $600 in sales for our store in 2 weeks.  She had my attention.

What social networks do you currently use? With so many new social networks starting, how do you decide which new ones to add?

I use Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, and we just launched our website at encorekc.com.

Facebook has been good to us, and we have learned that with our clients (probably others as well) it has to be packaged short and sweet – a picture and a few words. Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest just seemed like the right move.  They were also easy for me to pick up and add to what we were doing.  I sell using stories and visuals from the store, so these platforms work well.

Do you use different social networks for different purposes, or do you find yourself duplicating efforts to try and keep each network updated? Thinking more about duplication, do you find you reach different customers through different social networks, or are you reaching the same customers in different ways?

Yes, I use different networks for different reasons.  Facebook it still where I can get the most information to people. Perfect for invites to parties and events. In the short time we have been using social media we have also learned that different people use and respond to different medias.  My younger clients are more geared toward Twitter and Instagram.  My 30-40 somethings still use Facebook. I also have a group of clients that we can text 24 to 48 hours prior to an event and they respond.  AND then I have my clients my mom’s age and up that I still mail offers and invites to. It’s a bit exhausting.  I try really hard not to send the same info / pictures out to all media. I don’t want to annoy anyone.  I have clients that follow me on all our platforms. I don’t want them to get tired of me.  It’s a delicate balance because I don’t want anyone to miss anything.

Beyond the fact that different people respond to different networks, they also respond differently at certain times of the day and days of the week!  For example: Monday mornings between 8 and 11, if we post on Facebook we get great responses.  People have just started their work week and haven’t really got in the groove yet.  Every day of the week except Fridays, we post between 4 and 6 and get great results.  Wednesdays on Facebook we don’t post much, I guess people are really working on Wednesdays :)  Lunch time is also good for us.  Twitter is better for us in the evening and weekends. I pretty much use Instagram all the time because it is a great way to post to the other networks.  BUT if I post a picture on Instagram at around midnight, all sorts of people that I do not know Like and Follow me.  It’s crazy.  As for Pinterest, Sunday mornings will get people interacting with me, but Sunday is horrible for us on Facebook.  It’s a full-time job that I am trying to sneak into the daily running of my business!

What type of updates do you post, and what type of content has proved to be most effective for you?

As for posts and content we mainly highlight what “Just Arrived.” My clients know that on the furniture side we only get one of each item, so it creates a sense of urgency.  As for our clothing we only get one size run in the new clothing, and if it’s vintage it’s a one shot deal.  We post throughout the day and people call us to hold until they can swing by after work.  We also have clients that live out-of-state that we ship to. All because of social media. I have regular clients in Minnesota, Nashville, Texas and several in Topeka, KS….all because of Facebook.

Could you share some of the key benefits you’ve found in using social media?  

I have NO advertising budget.  Despite that, we have been here for 9 years and are still growing.  I have done very little paid advertising over the years. Social Media has opened so many doors for us. Some examples?  Clients repost our pictures and currently we ship 3 to 4 items out-of-state a week, and we hope to expand on that. These clients would never have known about us without those Facebook shares.  Through Facebook posts and Twitter posts, bloggers have found us and repost our events, and products. Using the different networks helps keep our name in front of people, whether they are interacting with us daily or not, they see our posts, our check-ins, our event information, and it keeps us on their radar.  I hear all the time “OMG I love following you on Facebook!” And they can tell me everything we have done in the last week. My favorite thing that happens on posts is when a client likes a picture and exclaims “I NEED THIS” or “OMG”, and then their Mom, best friend or husband calls the store and purchases that item for them as a gift!

I have also found that people that want to support the local community stay active with social media, so it’s a very warm audience for us.  I used to want to have really high numbers as far as followers, but have definitely learned that it’s quality over quantity.  I am always very honored when someone shares a picture or a post of ours. It validates what we are doing.

Can you determine if your social media efforts have positively impacted sales?

Yes! Social media has directly impacted sales. We even have a sales goal related to Facebook and Twitter.  We keep track each week of the sales that we definitely know were because of a social media post.  By Friday if we are not close we boost the posts and pictures. We get a lot of interaction when we post an album of goods or outfits that we have put together.  We learned to post an album, and then pull single pictures out of that album through that day and maybe the next.  Single pictures get a better immediate response.  I believe this is because most people are following during the day on their phones.  It’s harder to view a whole album on your phone.  Once they are home in the evening and catching up or winding down they spend more time reading and perusing.  So, for us, single pictures generate immediate sales, albums generate interest and interaction. I want both.

Looking back, are there any social media “lessons learned” you’d share with other business owners?

You simply cannot do it all.  Find what works best for you and your clients and do that well. And most importantly, be respectful. I will never put something on another Business Page that links back to Encore unless I’ve asked or know that I have that relationship with that person or business.  Nothing bothers me more than when someone I do not know and who has never even been in my store, posts something about their business on my Page.  It gets deleted and they get blocked, period.  I think it is horribly rude.  Also, you can’t just post and move on.  I do my best to check throughout the day and answer questions.  If I post a picture and someone sees it an hour later asking the dimensions, I need to answer them in a timely fashion.  Not responding is an easy way to lose a client.  We try to answer everyone back within 2 hours.  It’s hard, sometimes the store is busy, which is a good thing and none of us see the question until we are closed. So, never leave someone dangling.  Follow up, answer questions, interact.

What would you say to those business owners that aren’t using social media – maybe they’re concerned it will take too much time, they don’t know what to say, they’re intimidated? 

The best advice I have is simply “do it.”  You’re going to make mistakes, but you will learn. That is life.  I say follow some leaders in your industry first.  See what they do, and how you can make that work in  your day-to-day operations. I didn’t want to do it at first, now I cannot imagine my business without it.  I believe we are still going strong and growing because of social media.  I also believe that is has to be tailored to you and have a “bit of you” in it.  By that I mean, be personal.  There is a reason we all love social media and reality shows.  We want to know what other people are doing I guess. If you are a small business like myself, I find when I interject something a bit personal, a glimpse at myself and my personal life, people react well.  It’s about forming relationships and if all you do it post sales and prices that gets old.  I try to put encouraging and positive messages out there a few times a week.  I also help promote other businesses on my Page. Be generous to others and it will pay off.  Yes, it is your business Page, but no one wants a full-time running ad.

Finally, could you give a brief statement summarizing the overall impact of social media on you personally, and on your business.

Social Media completely changed my life and my business.  The downside is that I never set my phone down.  The upside is thousands of people know about my little business that never would have otherwise.  I have created both business and personal relationships that I never would have otherwise. We know that Social Media drives 10% of our sales and we believe that we will raise that number.  I had not a clue what I was doing when I started.  It scared me to death.  Now, it’s the first thing I do in the morning and usually the last thing I do before I go to sleep.  It is ever evolving, but never going away.

New Class being offered in Lawrence: Social Media for Small Business & Community Organizations

At Social: IRL we regularly provide in-house training for clients. We also host a nationwide conference series that takes some of the most respected names in social and new media and goes beyond the typical conference experience to provide highly engaged interactive learning in a boot camp type environment.

Educating and empowering is a key focus of what we do. A business should not simply hire a consultant, or contract out management of social media accounts without any real investment on their own part beyond paying fees. There are certainly times when that type of support is needed and properly given, but at a local level it is typically more effective when the business or community organization can handle social media themselves. We believe in an integrated approach, that social media should be part of what you do, not handled as some separate entity.

Ultimately social media is about relationships. This is especially evident at a local community level. It requires authenticity and should present an online personality that accurately reflects the offline personality of the business or individual.

Many business get that social media is important, but are put off simply because they are confused, intimidated, overwhelmed or afraid of time or cost commitments.

That is why we are offering this four part class, Social Media for Small Business & Community Organizations.

The class is designed to help educate and empower small businesses, community organizations, and anyone else interested in using social media as a positive and productive tool.  A goal of the class is to focus on effectively using social media to connect with the local community, reach prospects, build relationships,  provide customer service, and help drive sales.

Each week we’ll progress to a new level, at all times combining teaching with practical hands on assistance to help get you up and running.

We’ll start with the very basics to help you understand what social media is beyond the typical talk about Facebook and Twitter. We’ll look at key social networks, help with account setup and branding, how to use each network. We’ll cover best practices, promoting your new accounts, finding the right people to connect with and what to say. We’ll also look at developing a basic strategy that helps you integrate social media with existing marketing and customer service efforts, and look at creating an effective content plan. We’ll also cover location based service such as Foursquare, listening to conversations and monitoring specific keywords, using video and photo services, blogs, and tools and techniques to help with managing your account in an effective and time efficient manner. We’ll set goals, review progress, and compare results.

We’ll look at why social media is not a “magic solution” or stand-alone solution, but needs to integrate with existing marketing, customer service and outreach efforts. One of the goals of this class is to help you understand and achieve that integration. Another goal is to empower you to feel confident running these efforts on your own, not contracting out and paying someone to run accounts for you.

Each class will include two hours of teaching time plus one hour of Q&A and practical support. We have sought to make the class as affordable and accessible as possible and will be offering a total of 12 hours of class time for a flat rate of $250 per attendee.

Our first class will take place in four parts:

Part One – Friday, June 17, 9:00am to Noon

Part Two – Thursday, June 23, 9:00am to Noon

Part Three – Thursday, June 30, 9:00am to Noon

Part Four – Friday, July 8, 9:00am to Noon

Classes will take place in the Media Room at The Oread Hotel in Lawrence.

For additional information and to sign up visit our event registration page, or contact us with any questions.