January 24, 2012

Adventures in Technology in a Mom and Pop Store

My parents have a small vintage furniture and collectibles shop in San Antonio, TX. As I’ve written in a prior post, it’s a family affair: I remember my mom starting this business when I was in the fifth grade and then my father jumping in to help once he retired from the San Antonio Police Department. My parents love what they do and so when I’m home I’m frequently pulled into conversations about ways they can improve their small business. 

Last month, it was all about Facebook.

While I’m hesitant to argue that there are significant parallels between a mom and pop store and small churches, in listening to them I realized that my parents had many of the same concerns that many churches face:
  • How can we get more people to like our page? At the time, they had exactly three likes: my mom, my dad, and me.
  • How can we connect with people who are just passing through? As with any small shop (and church), there are a lot of people who simply visit and never return. They were looking for a mechanism that would help to make these one-time visitors into engaged fans.
  • How can we connect with a younger audience? The crowd who passes through their shop is decidedly older and their prior advertising - a small ad on a local AM radio station - was directed at this crowd. But my parents believe that the stuff in their store would also be great for young couples, especially those who are trying to stretch their dollars while decorating a first home or apartment. Yet they weren’t sure how to reach this community.
Over breakfast tacos and sweet tea at my parents’ favorite Tex-Mex place, we ended up strategizing a few ways to address these concerns.

First, we created a Facebook ad. Like many small churches, my parents have limited advertising dollars, so it was a small ad that targeted people with specific interests (home & gardening, crafts) who lived within 50 miles of their store. The ad ran for 30 days and cost them $30. In one month, they have gone from 3 likes to 39. Not surprisingly, those who have liked the page have tended to be younger than their average customer.

Secondly, we took a page from Richelle Thompson’s play book about QR codes. As I mentioned above, my parents wanted to find a way to make a deeper connection with one-time visitors. To do so, we used a free QR code generator and printed several large copies of this code. My mother, always mindful of the decor, put the codes in beautiful black frames and placed them in strategic locations around the store. They also put them on the back of their business cards. According to my father, visitors with smart phones are delighted to see the codes, scan them, and are directed to “like” their Facebook page. When visitors go ahead and “like” their page, they’ll be engaged with the store over a much longer period of time than if they had simply been directed to their website.

One month into our experiment, we’ve had an increase in “likes” on the Facebook page, and a few people have even recommended the shop to their Facebook friends. At least three people have visited the store after finding out about it on Facebook, and this led to the sale of a red lamp that easily covered the cost of the ad. There are some younger folks in the mix and my parents have enjoyed the surprised reactions the on-site QR codes have caused. All in all, not bad for thirty dollars!
A final similarity between many churches and a mom and pop store: like many church folks, my parents were very nervous about starting this experiment. My mother cringed the first time she saw a QR code and came up with the black frame idea as a way of masking its ugliness. My father had never been on Facebook, much less created an ad. It's been a new adventure for us all, and now there's no turning back.