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Learn to build your social network

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Quick tips:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Test the waters. Start a page and spread the word to your customers. Find out if they want to connect with you online.

Build your brand. Design a logo and build brand awareness through social media. Be sure to advertise your social media presence on any marketing materials you make.

Rally around the issues. Social media is a great way to spread the word about industry issues and connect with industry stakeholders to stay in the know.

Read on and learn from EastSide’s foray into social media… 

It’s no secret: the convenience retailing game is changing. Jason Schultz, owner of EastSide Confectionery in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, says it’s tough out there, but believes it’s up to retailers to adapt and change with the times.

“With the squeeze contraband tobacco is putting on small businesses like ours, its pretty difficult to survive. This means our role is changing considerably, but like any good business, you have to change with the times,” he says.

Schultz has adapted his business in a number of ways, but one of his main initiatives is building his social media presence as a way to establish a community.

The role of social media

Social media is more than a space to showcase your offer. It’s a space that allows you to build your brand, connect with your customers, and ensure your business is top of mind for your community.

“For a small independent like us, I think social media is a must. We don’t have – and can’t afford – a marketing campaign, yet marketing is one of the most important components to any business,” says Schultz. “Facebook is free. Of course, you should know going into it that like anything it takes work and attention. But it really can put you right there beside the big companies.”

Schultz started the EastSide Confectionery Facebook page to test the waters and see if customers would be interested in what they had to post. It turns out they are. The Facebook page has 354 ‘likes’ and many of these friends are engaged in the content and share it on a regular basis.

But what kind of content does Schultz post to his page? “On Facebook, not only can we post information relating to specials, deals, lottery jackpots, etc., but our customers can also interact with us and that’s just as important. They can message us through Facebook and ask us about our hours or find out if the chip stand is open. That gets out instantly to our followers and they can refer back to it and share it, and the customer can even interact with us and ask questions about the deals,” he says.

The importance of marketing

“Unfortunately for most small business owners, we are so busy with the day-to-day operations, it’s hard to focus on growing the business. As the owner you’re the janitor, bookkeeper, clerk, fry cook, HR rep, to name a few, so marketing can be pretty low on the list of priorities,” he says. But any successful retailer will agree it’s also one of the most important ways to build business.

“I think Facebook is what the local newspaper used to be. Before, eOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAveryone used to read the paper and people would see your ad. Nowadays everyone is on Facebook and you can target those people more effectively and more quickly,” he says.

Schultz has included the Facebook logo on some of EastSide’s marketing materials so customers can easily find them online. “I think it goes without saying that if you have a business today, you should be on Facebook. It’s just like the old days of being in the phone book.”

Schultz has a background in graphic design, so he created a logo for his store that is instantly recognizable to people in the area. “I based our logo around the old school Orange Crush sign above our building that has been there forever. Even if you don’t know the name of our store, if you’ve seen the sign, you’ll tie it in with our logo,” he says.

Understanding the issues

Schultz uses his social media platform to share information and educate his customers about industry issues, but he also uses his social media presence to connect with industry stakeholders, including the Ontario Convenience Stores Association. He stays up to date on what’s happening in the industry, and spreads information, articles and videos whenever possible.

Schultz has one last piece of advice for retailers just starting out online: “The challenge is to build your customer base. You have the unique opportunity to reach – practically for free – as many people as you want, but you certainly have to work at it!”