When Dave Krikac’s autistic daughter Sara graduated from high school, the job search was harder than usual. In Tennessee’s Williamson County, the unemployment rate for disabled young adults was sky high at 50 percent.
Finding this unacceptable, Krikac opened up “Our Thrift Store” with a simple idea: extend our American belief of independence for as many of the 1,400 special-needs young adults in the community as possible by getting as much “stuff” as possible. Armed with the motto “Stuff = Jobs,” Our Thrift Store has worked its way to 32 employees and 20% growth every year since its inception. Dave’s trick? Simple: Don’t just listen and respond to your community – be a part of it in all aspects possible.
Though Dave’s idea to thrive by positioning his business as an integral member of his community isn’t a new one, he has found a modern outlet to expand on these ideas: social media.
Social media isn’t just for informing your customers about what’s happening in your store anymore, as Dave quickly pointed out during his interview with insureon. Though many of his peers are on all the platforms – Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Vine – Dave said social media is still an “untapped resource” for most small-business owners.
The communication opportunities these social networks provide small businesses can offer the greatest market research and branding practices available: direct interaction with customers. After all, getting to know customers personally is what drives business forward.
We were lucky enough to get Dave to share how he uses social media to contribute to Our Thrift Store’s success. Here’s what he said during our interview, along with some tips on how to apply it to your own small business.
Small Business Social Media Tip #1: Connect People with Your Cause.
Dave Krikac understands better than anyone that, when your entire store runs on the contributions of others, it’s important to find ways to keep people donating. But when the recession hit and people weren’t sure of what was coming next, Dave had a problem.
People were “hoarding” their possessions, he said. And for the businessman who equates “stuff” with “jobs,” no stuff meant no jobs. But social media provided a useful tool to help bring donations into the store. Dave started posting pictures of his employees handling donations on Facebook and Instagram, and has maintained the practice even today when times are better. The photos let him involve his customers with the normal operations of the store – and the cause – in a behind-the-scenes way, which most thrift stores don’t do.
“When they see where their donation is going, it starts to mean something more to them,” Dave said.
He uses social media tools to provide the meaningful link between the supplies and the cause, ensuring that contributors will keep bringing their used items in because they feel connected to the mission.
This connection helps even when social media is a detrimental force. In a time when small businesses are “constantly being tried in a court of social media,” the community of involved supporters can come to the rescue.
“When someone on Yelp! gives you a terrible review, some of our social media followers come to our support,” Dave said.
The supporters he has engaged through social media combat any “negative Nellies,” without his prompting. His customers feel so strongly about the goals and service Our Thrift Store provides that they fight to protect his business, and the opportunities it affords his employees.
Small Business Social Media Tip #2: Integrate Different Aspects of Your Community.
“Our demographics range from the very poor to the very rich,” Dave said. “We just got a $25,000 table donated by Ashley Judd. That’s the right side of the spectrum. We also can get a bag of clothing donated from someone on the other side” of the spectrum.
But Dave finds social media can act as a great equalizer, providing a platform for all customers to voice their needs.
“Thrifting isn’t something that is just for the low end of the financial spectrum,” Dave said. “It’s for everyone.”
Because social media can be isolating for some older customers, Dave makes an effort to include them in his efforts. A patient man, he teaches his customers how to access platforms they might not be familiar with. After posting a Facebook status encouraging his customers to follow Our Thrift Store on Instagram, a customer commented that they did not know anything about Instagram. Dave quickly responded with an explanation of the application, as well as a way she could access the store’s profile on her computer.
Dave’s patience and willingness to offer options for all different subsets of the community allow him to expand his business by tapping into many different revenue sources.
Small Business Social Media Tip #3: Bring Your Small Business Network Online.
Because Dave sees himself as part of a larger community of small businesses, he works to help other businesses in that community achieve some of the success Our Thrift Store has enjoyed through social media. For example, after a recent meal at local Mexican restaurant Pueblo Real, Dave elected to post about the great service and food he received.
“When we’ve got 6,000 people that follow our business, and we post about another small business owner, then there’s an opportunity for 6,000 people to visit that business,” Dave said. “We promote their business and create economies of scale. So far it’s working.”
“I think small-business owners are this band of optimistic, hard charging, type-A people,” Dave said. “These are the folks that scratch each other’s backs.”
So far, this optimistic attitude has paid off – for Dave and Our Thrift Store as much as the businesses he’s helped bolster.
When the store’s air conditioning broke, Dave had no idea what how he was going to pay for the new system. Luckily, he was able to turn to members of the local small-business network he’d built. While talking business with another small business owner shortly after the air conditioner went out, he mentioned the broken system. The other business owner offered to pay $10,000 of the repair costs, knowing the toll a mishap like this could have on Dave’s business.
This is the second time another small-business owner stepped up to help Our Thrift Store when in need.
“Good things happen to good people,” Dave said. “When you’re doing the right thing and investing in people, people continually want to help us grow.”