TYRO — At 8 p.m. on most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, West Davidson’s Melissa Crotts begins her sales pitch inside a small outbuilding where most people store their lawnmowers and tools.
She stands between rows of LuLaRoe’s latest styles of shirts, dresses, jeans and leggings, pulling new arrivals from a hanger to try on for customers viewing her Facebook Live show. Because of her live-streamed show, Crotts’ small home-based business has reached a customer base well beyond Davidson County’s borders. She has customers in Maine, Alaska, New York, all over North Carolina and Vancouver, Canada, thanks to the internet.
When Sir Timothy Berners-Lee published the first website on Aug. 6, 1991, he ignited change in our society still being realized 30 years later. Initially considered only a way to catalog information, the internet’s reach into everyday functions has changed how we bank, learn, solve crimes, shop and more.
It did not take long for retailers and customers to figure out how to harness the power of the internet to revolutionize how products are sold and how consumers shop. Amazon was among the first to capture online customer loyalty and show the world how shopping for everything from books to dog food is conveniently done with a few clicks on a keyboard instead of getting dressed and driving to a store. Big box stores soon followed and now even small mom and pop Main Street USA stores are using the internet to hawk their goods.
Thanks to the internet, more consumers are shifting the way they shop from driving to a store to online purchasing. A 2017 consumer study by Access Development, revealed that 93.2 percent of consumers are willing to travel only 20 minutes or less to make their everyday purchases such as groceries, apparel and gas, and 87 percent of consumers typically travel only 15 minutes from their homes.
Statistics like this have made it more important to engage in e-commerce situations using the internet to grow customer bases, according to local business owners. There are only so many shoppers who want a product who live within a 20 to 15-minute drive of any store, but with the internet miles driven are irrelevant.
Small business with a big reach
Crotts uses the social media Facebook Live platform to broadcast her LuLaRoe show weekly from her farm-chic decorated barn. Find her online store by searching Melissa Grace Boutique on Facebook. LuLaRoe is a United States-based multi-level marketing company that sells women’s clothing using representatives across the country.
Like most multi-level marketing companies from Paparazzi jewelry to Farmasi and Mary Kay cosmetics, these businesses began with representatives or ambassadors hawking their products at home parties, as vendors at festivals or through catalogs. But in the past few years, YouTube channels, websites and Facebook Live have helped MLM business owners grow their customer base hundreds and thousands of miles from their homes
“People who don’t do this think you need a hundred or more people watching the Lives to make money,” she said. “That’s not true. I can have four people watching and sell $1,200 a month in clothing. I sell to about 400 women across the country. People don’t see all the emails and messages I get from customers who watch the replay and ask if I still have this shirt or this dress in this size and then buy it. I have a website, too, but (Facebook) Lives are the number one way I sell.”
Crotts, who also has a website, said the convenience of shopping online and having products shipped to them or offering local pick up is something consumers have come to value and appreciate. Even if they can’t watch at 8 p.m. when she is live, they can watch a replay of the Facebook Live show “while in their pajamas eating cereal” and shop.
“Watching the Facebook Live replay is like DVRing something,” she said.”I have Facebook Live shows that are still on my Facebook page and people watching from a year ago. They watch it and message me to see if I still have an item they saw. They’ll send me a screenshot of the shirt from the Live and ask if I have a certain size. They also go through my website.”
When shopping while watching a Facebook Live show, Crott’s customers comment the item number of the piece of clothing they want and their size and she pulls it for them. Customers have pre-registered by simply sending her their email mailing address so she can send them an invoice for payment and ship them their purchases. They pay using a secure online method and the item is shipped to their home or they can pick it up at her LuLastet Barn.
Christy Michael of the Reeds community said while she still enjoys going to stores to try on clothing and buy her own groceries, she enjoys being able to shop using the internet because a store’s hours don’t always fit her hours. She shops with Crotts on her Facebook Lives and E’s Inspirations Facebook Live shows, which is also located in the Tyro community.
“It’s convenient,” said Michael, who is a customer service manager at a Lexington Food Lion store. “…. I like to support small, local businesses, but because of my crazy schedule, E’s is usually closed when I get off work. They are only open a set amount of hours because she has a full-time job. I know Melissa from when we worked together. I like to watch her Lives and shop, too. It’s something I watch after work and wind down to.”
Internet helps Lexington store owner reach international customers
It’s not just local MLM company owners who are seeing success with internet sales. On Main Street in Lexington, Cooper Road Collection owner Krista Miller Jarvis uses Facebook Live, Instagram and an interactive website to grow her business well beyond the typical number of minutes consumers are willing to drive to her store.
Jarvis, who opened her Lexington store that specializes in plus-sized clothing for females and accessories in September 2017 created a website about one year later to offer local women another way to shop with her. She said everyone could not come by the store regularly and they were missing out on newly-released clothing in their size.
“At first it wasn’t about growing my customer base outside of Davidson County,” she said.
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When COVID-19 hit, closing down all retail stores like Cooper Road Collection for about three months, the store’s website gained a new purpose. It was the only way she could sell and customers could buy. She added Facebook Live shows as a way to reach her customers and saw that it took off garnering her customers from all over the country and even Canada and Australia.
Usually on Facebook Live shows, customers are encouraged to hit the Share button, sending out a notification about the show on the viewers’ Facebook wall that all their friends can see. Others “tag” friends in the comment section on the Live’s which sends the people tagged a notification that the show is happening and they can watch by clicking on the link. Each share and tag multiplies a business’s reach.
“The Facebook Live shows took off like wildfire,” she said of growing her customer base. “My husband was behind the camera trying to keep up with who was claiming what in what size and invoicing. It was wild. We could not keep up.”
Quickly, Jarvis said she saw the need for an automated purchasing service to be added to her Facebook Live shows called Comment Sold. With this, everything is automated. Customers register first to purchase and when they type in the comment section “Sold” and the product number and their size, everything is placed in a cart that they use to check out and pay for goods claimed during the show.
“Before COVID and Facebook Live shows, 25 percent of our sales were made online. Now since the growth in our website, Facebook Lives and social media posts on Facebook and Instagram, 75 percent of our business comes from online. We do about six Lives a month and post daily on our Facebook and Instagram stories. One-third of our business comes from Facebook Lives.
Jarvis is also using TikTok videos to bring awareness about her store and its products.
“Through this, I have found out it’s so hard for women to find plus-sized clothing and that has probably helped us too in our growth using the internet,” she said. “It took me quite a while to jump on to technology and selling online. I am so passionate about having a brick-and-mortar store for plus-size women. But we have to go where technology is taking us.”
Davidson County resident Sonja Crumbley is among the group of consumers who just enjoy purchasing items using the internet now. She shops with an online boutique owner in Kansas — Morgan Faye Boutique — on Facebook after a friend sent her a “Share” link to the Facebook Live show. Crumbley buys everything from novelty pens and clothing to candles and body care items that owner Deonna Fetcher, an Asheville, N.C., native, sells.
“It’s the convenience of it,” Crumbley said. “Especially after COVID began and with me having a compromised immune system…. I also buy online with Amazon or Chewy.”
The Facebook Live business shows also provide her with entertainment and community she can’t get from shopping in a store, she said. The people online talk to one another in the comments section during the show and become shopping buddies.
Mainly, Crumbley said it’s just the convenience of not having to get dressed and drive to a store that attracts her to the internet for many of her shopping needs and wants.
“For example, today I ran to Walmart during my lunch hour to get some more paint. We are doing a renovation at our house. I had just purchased the paint two weeks ago and needed more. I get there and they are out of the paint now. I wasted my time going there to have to come back to the office and order it online. They are shipping it to my house.”
Jill Doss-Raines is The Dispatch trending topics and personality profiles senior reporter and is always looking for tips about businesses and entertainment events, secret and new menu items, and interesting people in Davidson County. Contact me at [email protected] and subscribe to us at the-dispatch.com.