When the pandemic first hit, many retail stores across the globe were forced to shut down their brick-and-mortar locations and transitioned to online shopping, using virtual platforms to display and sell items.
For Sindy Hernandez, designer and owner of Queen’s Shoes & More in Watsonville, social media in particular has been a boon for her business during the crisis.
After Hernandez had to close her shop, she and her employees first focused on sewing face masks for the community, donating a huge chunk of them to local nonprofits and selling the rest.
“I think we ended up producing over 6,000 masks,” Hernandez said. “We went through rolls and rolls of fabric. It helped me stay in business.”
In the meantime she was also busy creating a new, updated website where people could order online for pickup or shipping. She also dove headfirst into the world of social media.
Hernandez began posting regularly on her many accounts, especially Instagram and TikTok. She posted photos and videos, showing off the store’s offerings and Hernandez’s own line of clothing.
“Had I not created the website, and been so active on social media, I think our story would be totally different,” Hernandez said. “It’s about taking advantage of a free service—you don’t have to pay for social media. I just realized how important it was.”
Business increased. Locals started buying more for pickup, and the small store began shipping items further and further away.
And then, one dress in particular that Hernandez designed started getting lots of attention on TikTok. Thousands of people watched the video and hundreds flooded the comment section, praising the design, asking questions and requesting different sizes and colors.
People from as far away as Germany ordered the dress, Hernandez said.
“It was amazing to see the response,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wait, maybe I do have a chance of taking my [clothing] line to the next level!’ It was crazy. It’s the power of social media.”
According to a survey report on visualobjects.com, more than half (56%) of small businesses in the U.S. now engage on social media at least weekly, and expect growth in 2021 despite continuing Covid-related challenges.
Almost all small businesses (78%) use Facebook, making it the most popular social media platform. TikTok is rarely used by small businesses (14%) despite its rapidly-growing user base.
Hernandez says she isn’t exactly sure why that dress in particular gained so much traction on TikTok. But she thinks consistency is key.
“For a long time I was hesitant, I didn’t want to be one of those people who would post and post,” she said. “But you have to. When people see a picture or a video of an item, they are more likely to buy it.”
Since the pandemic started, a good deal of small businesses worldwide have struggled. Hernandez thinks that shoppers know this and want to help, and that’s how so many small shops like hers are surviving.
“I think a lot of people are more eager to help small businesses,” she said. “Locals come and support me because they know me, but online customers want to support me, too. Maybe they don’t want to buy the mass-produced clothes anymore. They want things that are quality, that will last and are consciously created.”
To show appreciation for her online community, Hernandez, her employees and friends have started hosting regular livestreams, where they do yoga, sound therapy and cooking.
It’s a lot of work, but worth it, she said.
“It’s a way of keeping your small community connected, making it more personal,” she said. “Since Covid we want to feel closer to who we’re buying from.”
Queen’s Shoes & More, 734 East Lake Ave., reopened for in-person shopping last month. For the store’s 14th anniversary, they will host a Shopping for a Cause event April 28-May 1, with 10% of sales at the shop going to support Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes.