In a rapidly expanding town that has seen its farm fields disappear under housing developments and many small businesses go under due to the influx of nearby big box stores, Victoria Hunt, owner of Carousel Kids, a children’s second-hand clothes & new toy shop in Waterdown, Ontario, has discovered that utilizing social media to connect with the community can have a profound impact on the success of a business. With a Facebook page and an unapologetically authentic personal social media account, Ms. Hunt has shared the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur with a huge heart and a desire to succeed in what some would say is a difficult sector of the retail industry.
Ms. Hunt opened the doors of Carousel Kids in July of 2012. Prior to opening, she created a Facebook page to get the word out about the store. It didn’t garner much interest at first and it wasn’t until the store was operational that she finally hit 100 likes – which she recalls as being extremely exciting. Today, the page has 4,420 likes and a 4.7 out of 5 start rating based on 137 online reviews.
For many businesses, social media marketing is a great value and jobs are created to focus solely on social media – but for small stores and entrepreneurs like Ms. Hunt, it has basically been a ‘learn as you go’ journey. When asked if using social media was always part of Ms. Hunt’s business plan she laughs stating that if you look at her original business plan her intentions were noted as ‘will use social media’. Like many individuals who didn’t grow up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the numerous other social networking platforms, its relevance wasn’t immediately apparent.
It was actually the limitations of Ms. Hunt’s first website that prompted her to pursue Facebook networking and advertising to a greater extent in order to interact with clients through flash sales and online auctions, as well as engage current customers by asking for input on new stock items.
“I did already know Facebook was important for businesses but I didn’t really understand the power of it,” said Ms. Hunt.
Ms. Hunt has also used her personal and professional Facebook pages to share a window into her life and that of her family. Once in early 2015 and again in the summer of 2016, Ms. Hunt’s shop was struggling. Against the business advice she was provided, Ms. Hunt authentically shared her struggles with her online networks. Ms. Hunt said, “Nobody can be prepared for how hard this business is…but, I don’t give up.” She has put her heart and soul into the store and thinks of it as her third baby. When costs started far outweighing income she made a plea to her customers and the community via her store’s Facebook page:
“The store is my third baby. I have put my heart and soul into it. But it is taking a real toll on my mental health. And I am at a real crossroads here…the hard cold facts, no drama added, just basic truth, is that we are a whisper away from going under.”
That single ‘heart on her sleeve’ post went viral with almost 500 shares on Facebook and a magnitude of comments of support. The store’s traffic increased significantly as the community rallied around the local mom.
Over time, Ms. Hunt’s transparency on Facebook about the store and her life in general have really engaged the community and in turn brought customers into the store who would rather support the local mom than spend their dollars at a big box store.
Laura H., a local mom and customer, says “I shop there because the quality and prices are fantastic and Vicky is always warm and personable. She truly makes customers feel like family.”
In an age where customer service is highly lacking and it is common practice to focus more on a phone than the person in front of you, having a business owner speak from the heart, show compassion for others (Ms. Hunt has a fund that assists those struggling to make ends meet), and genuinely want customers to be happy is not the norm so it’s no surprise that Ms. Hunt’s ability to do this, and do so not only in person but also online – well that is both impressive and beneficial.
Not only has Facebook allowed Ms. Hunt to make personal connection with her customers outside the shop, it has provided an amazing advertising opportunity. “The return on your investment just can’t compare to any other advertising,” she said.
While a great amount of the store’s advertising is organic via shares and likes, Facebook also has the option of paid promotion that can be customized to any budget. Like many small businesses, the value is great and as Ms. Hunt says she doesn’t advertise elsewhere because “the return on investment doesn’t compare.”
Lessons for Others
Overall, the use of Facebook has been extremely positive for Ms. Hunt and Carousel Kids but one thing that business owners do need to keep in mind is that online connections are now a way of life and it is difficult to keep personal and business profiles separate.
Ms. Hunt says she will literally receive personal messages late on a Saturday night inquiring about whether or not she has a certain type of shoe in stock in a specific size. She admits “there really is a blurring of the boundaries.” For business persons involved in social media, particularly entrepreneurs, there are no barriers to limit where the business stops and the person begins. But, Ms. Hunt takes it all in stride and admits that it’s not really a big deal. And in the end, customers are not just supporting the store, they are supporting the person.
Name of Organization Contact: Victoria Hunt
Authored by: SBirett
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.
Burnett, Chris, as at 2016, October 5. Re: Personal vs. Business When It Comes To Social Media, https://www.thesocialmediahat.com/blog/personal-vs-business-when-it-comes-social-media-05102013
Carousel Kids (n.d.), https://www.carouselkids.ca/
DeMers, Jayson (2014, August 11), Re: The Top 10 Benefits of Social Media Marketing, Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2014/08/11/the-top-10-benefits-of-social-media-marketing/#325b41c2a4d2
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