BUST: A Hard Landing as Soft Surroundings Files for Bankruptcy

Case Study: Virginia Retail Chain Shifts Print Ad Budget to Social Channels

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BUST: A Hard Landing as Soft Surroundings Files for Bankruptcy

Merchant: A. Dodson’s
Size: 3 stores
Locations: Suffolk, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, Virginia
Platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest
Bottom Line: Merchants should be using social media to learn about their customers, not just market to them.

Six years ago, A. Dodson’s made a big bet on social. The small, local retailer, which sells clothing, home furnishing, gifts, and antiques at three stores in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, Virginia, took money from its print advertising budget and used it to fund the salary of a social media manager. It was a gamble at the time, but it’s paying dividends today.

“Social media has been a major driver for us and we’ve enjoyed extending our customer relationships in ways that could have never been imagined before,” says Kim Glover, A. Dodson’s director of marketing.

Glover says that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest make up the core of A. Dodson’s online marketing program, however the company is “always ready to evolve” with its customers as new platforms gain in popularity and usage. Links to A. Dodson’s social media pages are displayed prominently on the store’s e-commerce website, along with a widget encouraging visitors to sign up for an email newsletter. A. Dodson’s secret sauce on social media seems to be a combination of product images and lifestyle shots that show the store’s clothing and furnishings in action.

“Customers don’t want to see an illusion of who you are on social media. They want to see the real you,” says Glover. “Customers can sense when you’re not being real and when you’re just straight up selling to them.”

Glover recommends that local merchants looking to grow their influence online try taking advantage of the two-way conversations that social media enables. She says businesses should be using channels like Facebook and Instagram to find out what their customers want, how they’re feeling, and what they’re doing. A bit of trial-and-error is always involved when a local merchants invests time and money in a new platform, but Glover cautions business owners to keep a close eye on how much they’re spending on their digital campaigns.

Today, A. Dodson’s spends about 9% of its overall budget on marketing. Of that amount, 4% is spent on the local Virginia communities where A. Dodson’s stores are based.

“I’ve learned that you can blow a monthly budget in a single day if you don’t know what you’re doing,” she says. “Thankfully, that’s not a lesson I learned first-hand, but I know it can happen if you don’t have someone who knows what they’re doing in charge of paid online advertising.”

Hiring a social media manager helped A. Dodson’s avoid some of the common mistakes that small business owners make when they spend big on platforms or advertising channels they’re unfamiliar with. Glover says business owners also struggle when they put themselves in charge of too many tasks.

“Small business owners wear many hats, and some of those hats are really outside of our comfort zone,” she says.

Glover emphasizes that IT and web can be “really daunting” to local merchants who don’t even know where to begin when it comes time to start selling their products online. As an example, she says A. Dodson’s struggled to find a web platform that integrated into its point of sale and the inventory with its vendors.

Although the store is still enjoying the increased attention that comes from winning a Small Business of the Year award from Independent We Stand, an organization that promotes independently owned businesses, Glover says marketing a business is a 24/7 job that never stops.

“From the way we train our sales associates to the way we brand our shipping boxes to the way we merchandise our stores,” she says, “marketing touches every aspect of our business.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.