[Announcer] Welcome to Sarah Squared, the podcast for all things marketing, business growth, branding, and social media. Sara Leisinger is the owner of Who’s Lance Digital Media, serving start-ups and solopreneurs. And Sarah Banowetz owns Banowetz Marketing, a full-service agency located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Together, they make up Sarah Squared, dedicated to the inspiration, motivation, and education of growing companies.
Sarah Banowetz: Welcome to the Sara(h)Squared podcast.
Sara Leisinger: Welcome back.
Sarah Banowetz: I am Sarah Banowetz.
Sara Leisinger: And I am Sara Leisinger.
Sarah Banowetz: Hello, hello. And we have a special guest on today. Christa Thompson.
Christa Thompson: Hello.
Sarah Banowetz: Christa Thompson with the Amish Connection. How are you?
Christa Thompson: I am doing fantastic other than this crazy wind.
Sara Leisinger: I about blew away earlier this morning when I came into the building.
Christa Thompson: For sure.
Sara Leisinger: So, I am so… Well, we are so glad you joined us today. You shut down your store to come pod with us. How cool.
Christa Thompson: Yeah, more than happy to do it.
Sara Leisinger: Very cool. Now, the question that I always have about the Amish Connection, is the stuff legit Amish?
Christa Thompson: A question we get all the time. Yes, everything that we specialize with our hardwood custom furniture is all made by Amish builders who are in Indiana, and Ohio both. We’ve got large communities of craftsmen who have been doing furniture, or building furniture for generations. So they learned it from their father, or their cousin. There’s a lot of combinations of families throughout those areas. They have their own workshops that they work out of either on their single family farms. Some of them are actually about the size of our store.
They’re still very traditional, and even have answering services that will receive information from retailers like myself. So, they’ll have someone who collects faxes, or telephone messages and then goes and distributes it to the farm.
Sarah Banowetz: Wow, that’s so interesting.
Sara Leisinger: Wow.
Christa Thompson: We do have some that are more progressive, it just depends on the elders in their communities. They’ll actually have phones in their workshops. Some of them even have internet and email.
Sara Leisinger: What?
Christa Thompson: Truly, truly. I appreciate it. I’m thankful for the leniency that they have given them in terms of their business and knowing what it takes to really do business today and the urgency of turning around orders means you have to be able to communicate special needs since everything we do is custom. If I see, I’ve got a customer who has a piece that they really like, but instead of two drawers they want it to be three, or they need it to be an inch shorter. Or, whatever that special need may be.
We even do completely from scratch pieces. So, if it’s measurements and a specific design that, that individual has it’s a lot easier if we can communicate quickly. Or, if I lose the sale, they lose the sale. So I think they’ve understood that, that’s just the pace of industry now. So that they need to be on board.
Sara Leisinger: Definitely.
Sarah Banowetz: Awesome. That’s really neat.
Sara Leisinger: So how did this idea come about?
Christa Thompson: So, it’s not our original idea. This is actually a 22-year old business where a gentleman who had another friend who was traveling somewhere else in the country, saw a retail Amish furniture store. He said to this gentleman, “This is such a great idea. This would sell really well. I don’t see these in Iowa. We should do this.” It was that kind of a thing. They ended up not doing it together, but this other gentleman did start it. He’s had locations in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, and he had a location down in Cedar Rapids as well.
So, he has had multiple locations that it really does fit a need for people where you can get custom furniture, you can get good quality. Because it’s all solid wood, you’re not going to find press board, or veneers, different things that would lower the quality. You’re talking heavy duty furniture.
So it went really well. But, he is into real estate as well. He eventually didn’t want to have a retail store that was so hands on operationally. So, he was getting out of the business. That was about three and a half years at. My husband and he knew each other over the years because they worked together at UPS, and so they were chatting about this coming up. My husband looked at me and said, “What do you think? This is something new.” I had managed hotels for 15 years. I was in the hospitality industry my entire adult life and know customer service. But, the retail industry is new but it’s also really exciting and still about providing a quality experience, which is the most important thing to me.
So, we took it on three years ago, almost three years ago. Last year was when I left my career as a manager to take on the store full-time.
Sara Leisinger: Oh, wow.
Sarah Banowetz: That is exciting.
Sara Leisinger: That’s really impressive, actually. Three years in.
Christa Thompson: Yeah.
Sara Leisinger: Well, that is super cool. So, here’s… My question is, this is such a specialized way of creating furniture and even doing business. How, exactly, do you get your name out there?
Christa Thompson: Sure. So, right now it has been… We did a commercial. So, for about three months after we first moved into this area in October we started a commercial and ran it December, January, and February. We use social media pretty much exclusively outside of that.
Facebook, I think, is something where so many people are getting their news there anyway that it seemed like we were able to not only reach individuals, but we could have that conversation. It wasn’t like throwing a commercial out there, hoping somebody sees it and then physically responds by coming into the store. We were able to get it to the point where people were either commenting on posts that we made or sending us messages directly. Private messages where we could communicate with them and answer questions, or provide quotes, or exchange images. Sometimes people would find things on the internet and they send us photos and say, “Hey, do you have something like this?” So, advertisement on Facebook is really inexpensive. So, boosting posts that has worked really well for us in terms of exposure.
We moved the store recently and that’s a huge undertaking in terms of expenses. We commute from outside the area, about 45 minutes. So we’re very conscious of our budget. So, Facebook is just, it’s something where we can be interactive and do it inexpensively.
Sara Leisinger: Very cool.
Sarah Banowetz: Did you have experience in the hotel management with social media? Did you have someone running social media in the hotel management?
Christa Thompson: That was all me. Hilton… So, I managed a Hampton property and Hilton has their own branded sites for every single brand underneath them. But, we had our own individual Facebook pages as well. With my PR background, I did a lot of graphic design things. So I really enjoy that aspect of it. Putting things together, seeing what works. We had individuals from some of our other properties who would have things that they wanted to put together. It just kind of fell flat, so I had the opportunity to work on things like that and create fliers, and Facebook posts and things like that. So, it was something that I was doing regularly for the hotel anyway.
Sarah Banowetz: So you kind of cut your teeth on social media marketing at the hotel.
Christa Thompson: Very true.
Sarah Banowetz: What have you seen as a difference in terms of your… What have you seen as a difference just in general? Not even in terms… I was going to say engagement. But, it really could be anything.
Christa Thompson: In terms of social media?
Sarah Banowetz: Yeah. Between the two types of businesses.
Christa Thompson: Yeah. So, for me it gives me an opportunity… With being in the retail industry there are so many different products. There’s so much I can share. There’s so many benefits and options for people to view. It is very visual, versus the hotel I had 11 different room types. I had one pool, and I had one breakfast area, and I had… You know what I mean? It was a lot more limited in terms of what someone would be buying into.
So, the product was what it was. But with the Amish Connection our furniture is unlimited because you could take one piece of furniture and change the wood. There’s oak, there’s brown maple, there’s cherry, there’s hickory, there’s everything. You can take each of those woods and do a different stain on all of them. You can change the hardware, you could change the size, you could change the leg. I mean, there’s so many different things to be able to share those options. It’s unlimited.
Sarah Banowetz: So it sounds like you’re having a lot more fun.
Christa Thompson: Yeah.
Sarah Banowetz: The creativity part of it at least.
Christa Thompson: Yes, absolutely. I love helping people solve problems. So I think we’ve been able to come across some really unique situations where people were struggling for years to find something that fit in terms of size. Or, fit in terms of the function that they needed. Or fit in terms of the look that they wanted. We have been able to meet them where their needs are at instead of just what I think looks good, or I have on the floor. We can work directly with our builders to tweak their designs and help them solve a problem they have.
So, if I need… We had a customer who needed an entry way bench and she had a very specific style she wanted. She was very adamant that that’s what she was going to get. Everything she found was 2″ too long. In this entry way people were going to be hitting their knees, or it was going to be overhanging another part of the room. So she came to us on a whim and we were able to do it no problem. I mean, it wasn’t… I get to say yes all the time, which is really exciting. I love being able to say, “Can you do that?” “Yes, we can.”
So, just really being able to think outside the box, work with our builders on some of the different things that they’ve come across and use that to meet the customer’s needs is really unexpected for them. I love that. I love seeing people get excited and just wowed by the fact that they can actually get what they want.
Sara Leisinger: Very cool.
Sarah Banowetz: Yeah, that is really neat.
Sara Leisinger: Very cool. Do you have any questions about the way you’re doing your marketing, or about maybe you want to pick Sarah’s brain or mine about kind of how to market to your ideal audience?
Christa Thompson: I think for me sometimes it becomes overwhelming to the consumer how many choices there really are. So, whether it’s in person, and I can kind of have that conversation like we are now that makes sense. But, trying to convey that through social media I worry that I get really wordy, or too descriptive and it’s not as fun. Or, as approachable I guess. So, being able to round that out is it best to… Like, lately I’ve been using images. A lot of custom pieces that we’ve done that, like I said, have solved problems for people. I think that it’s impactful when people can see, “Oh, this person had a problem and this was the creative solution. I wouldn’t have thought of that.” Or, you just end up being stuck.
So, those aren’t going to come along every day, though. I’m not always going to have those really good stories to tell. So, how I really reach out and share the message of things being so custom and available and helpful and resourceful, just kind of trying to figure out the best way to communicate that on a regular basis.
Sarah Banowetz: Without overwhelming people.
Christa Thompson: Without overwhelming them with information.
Sarah Banowetz: Do you have an order form of some type?
Christa Thompson: Not really. We use QuickBooks in terms of entering everything. So we do estimates that way.
Sarah Banowetz: But from the consumer side.
Christa Thompson: No.
Sarah Banowetz: So, one idea that I would have just off the bat… Like, for example, with my company graphic arts is pretty complicated. I mean, you could do anything and everything and yet you’ve got to narrow it down so that it’s manageable or else you can’t. So what we’ve actually created is you can use Google Forms and create a custom order form. Because then you can narrow it down to… Like, you could put your stains in there and your furniture type and just keep narrowing it down then at the last piece say, “Any other thing that you want us to know and we’ll be in touch with you,” type of thing.
Then I would, for your situation, I would probably put on there, “This is not… You haven’t actually made an order. This is just a request.” Like instead of it being an order form like a request form so that they know that they didn’t just actually purchase something.
Christa Thompson: Place an order, yeah-
Sarah Banowetz: They didn’t place… It was just more of narrowing down to help you figure out what it is that you want type of situation. But, each person has different learning styles too. So, that might be really good for one personality type, but then another person’s going to want to be on the phone or meet with you in person or something.
Sara Leisinger: Well, and if you’re talking purely in terms of social media you can take that idea that she just had and flip it. I’m thinking of five ways off the top of my head. But, one really strong way be telling one of those problem-solving stories in video form and then using that form, like the request form as the call to action.
Sarah Banowetz: Yeah. Yes. So the request form would be a call to… Yes. So, it would be like… So when you make a post and it seems like an overwhelming post at the end you say, “We clarify this.” Or, “We make it simple for you. Here’s a link.” So that they can do-
Christa Thompson: So it would be something accessible like on our website or something.
Sarah Banowetz: Yeah. So, what you can do to be super… Is it a WordPress website, or?
Christa Thompson I don’t know, but we’re having a new one built that’s SEO. Is that correct?
Sara Leisinger: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Christa Thompson: Okay.
Sarah Banowetz: So WordPress is really good for search engine… So, SEO is search engine optimization.
Christa Thompson: I know nothing.
Sarah Banowetz: So WordPress is really good for that. So if your web designer said it’s really good for SEO it probably is a WordPress website.
Christa Thompson: Okay.
Sarah Banowetz: You can get a WordPress plugin, which is kind of like an app. Best way I can describe it. You don’t use it like an app, but it’s like a… You know how like you have your phone and then you have apps on your phone?
ChristaThompson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sarah Banowetz: So you have your WordPress platform and then you have plugins which are added little features. So you can get a plugin for forms.
Sara Leisinger: My favorite’s contact form seven.
Sarah Banowetz: So you could create a little questionnaire form inside your website. Until that’s done right now you could use Google Forms and do essentially the same thing, it just won’t look as nice. It won’t be branded to you as well.
Sarah Banowetz: So, you could set that up this afternoon even. Then I would use… Did you say Biddlelee? Biddie Links? Bitily? How do you say that?
Sara Leisinger: Bitly.
Sarah Banowetz: Bitly, yes. Bitly.
Christa Thompson: Oh, I know I’ve seen that on people’s social media before. I know I’ve seen that.
Sarah Banowetz: So, that’s just taking long URLs and modifying it down. So if you use a Google Form you’re going to have a really long complicated URL and you’re not going to want to use that on your social media post. So then you take that long complicated URL and you put it into a Bitly so that it would be a short link that you could then use every time you make a complicated post where you feel like you need to have a call to action to get them… And the cool thing about that is it can collect emails and phone numbers and contact information.
So, then you can start collecting those to start… Do you have an email list?
Christa Thompson: We don’t. That’s another thing that has been kind of recently buzzing around that I’ve been hearing. So I’m considering something like maybe a quarterly newsletter because I’m like I don’t know what else… Other wise if we were doing a sale or something what I would use and email list for.
Sarah Banowetz: A quarterly news letter would be awesome.
CChrista Thompson Yeah.
Sarah Banowetz: Texting is working out really well right now, too. Same type of thing. It’s just short form instead of long form like an email newsletter is. But you could collect all those, so all of a sudden you’re getting… It’s a lead generation form in addition to simplifying the process for your customers, which is solving a problem that they have.
Sara Leisinger: Nice.
CChrista Thompson Yeah, I like that.
Sara Leisinger: Well, hopefully that answered a few of your questions.
Sarah Banowetz: Do you have any other ones?
Christa Thompson: I think they’re really specific to what we’re currently doing and how we can modify it and make it better. I just created our Pinterest account.
Sara Leisinger: Whatever.
Christa Thompson: That was exciting.
Sarah Banowetz: Good job.
Christa Thompson: I know, and I’m like, I love Pinterest for myself and I actually refer to Pinterest a lot with customers when they’re like, “Well, I kind of know what I want.” But it can be hard to visualize a piece in a catalog, let’s say, that I have from one of my builders in a different stain. Or, like there’s all these variables that visually it can be challenging. So if I tell people, “If you already have a board on Pinterest of things that you love, things that speak to you, things that you’re looking for and haven’t been able to find send me the picture. Let me go through our builders and I’ll match it up with product because I can help you to create that vision, then.”
So, I use Pinterest all the time in reference. I was like, “How can I use this?” After hearing a lot of the different things that you’ve been talking about, Sarah, and I’m like, “Okay, we just need to start it. Get going and see what happens.” I’m running into challenges of Pinterest not wanting to upload images for me, it’ll just keep telling me, “Oops. Something went wrong.” So, I don’t know if that’s something you can solve during our conversations.
Sara Leisinger: Yeah, we can talk about it. So, the easiest ways to upload pins on Pinterest is make sure that the ratio that the pins are in are correct. So, there is a… The size. The size needs to be correct on them. So I can show you how to size those. Yeah.
Christa Thompson: Because I’ve got jpeg’s from all of our… Most of our builders.
Sara Leisinger: Yep. You just have to put them into the right size from what… Because, like, you either have to upload it in a perfect square, or I believe it’s like a 4×1 rectangle.
Christa Thompson: Oh.
Sara Leisinger: Yeah.
Christa Thompson: Haven’t even considered that. Good to know.
Sara Leisinger: So, yeah, it’s something picky but it goes with… Pinterest is really, really interested in having only native content on their platform.
Christa Thompson: Okay. Another platform, actually, that I have a question about is utilizing LinkedIn. Because I feel like that’s such an individual platform, how do you transition that for your business. I don’t really know how to use it. I’m on it, I read posts on it, but I don’t really know how to apply it for myself.
Sarah Banowetz: In my opinion I would really focus on Pinterest.
Christa Thompson: Okay.
Sarah Banowetz: Because of your target audience, you’re not business-to-business and LinkedIn would be better for business-to-business. In the future, yes, as you’re bored and you want… You’ve already nailed everything else.
Christa Thompson: Yeah, okay.
Sarah Banowetz: But, Pinterest is really-
Christa Thompson: Okay, good. Thank you. Okay.
Sarah Banowetz: I would focus there.
Christa Thompson: Good to know.
Sara Leisinger: Agreed.
Sarah Banowetz: Yeah, I wouldn’t stress yourself out there.
Sara Leisinger: Yeah, I was about to ask you if you sold to office buildings, because I was like, “Well?”
Christa Thompson: Well, we would like to bid on different things. We’ve done bids to golf courses for outdoor furniture. I would like to get more involved in the corporate side of things. But right now that’s not an urgent need.
Sarah Banowetz: Yeah. So when you’re ready for that, that’s where you do want to be.
Sara Leisinger: If you don’t have the processes to meet the demand, because of the reach and the way LinkedIn works they have phenomenal organic reach. But, you’ll lose trust with your customer if you don’t have the processes to meet the demand.
Christa Thompson: Don’t want to do that.
Sara Leisinger: Yeah.
Sarah Banowetz: Well, okay. So, Christa how does everyone find you?
Christa Thompson: So, we are… If you know, off of Collins Road where Michael’s is at. Most people, that’s the familiar location. Or, the Collins Square Movie Theatre. We are-
Sarah Banowetz: The Collins Road Movie Theatre.
Christa Thompson: Or, Collins Road. Yeah, sorry.
Sarah Banowetz: I know Bruce so that’s why… Sara-
Christa Thompson: Collins Road, yes. The address is actually a Twixt Town Road address, but it seems like that can be kind of confusing to people. The shopping plaza has a Party City right in the corner near us. We’re in between Loft and Massage Envy is where our physical location is at.
Sarah Banowetz: They are in the old Lump Stone building for anyone who remembers Lump Stone.
Christa Thompson: Yes. Right now our sign is still being built so hopefully that… In the coming weeks that’ll be installed.
Sara Leisinger: Perfect.
Sarah Banowetz: And, what are your hours, actually?
Christa Thompson: Sure. We are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. just only closed on Sunday’s.
Sarah Banowetz: Where do people find you online?
Christa Thompson: It’s www.theamishconnection.com.
Sara Leisinger: Perfect.
Sarah Banowetz: And Facebook?
Christa Thompson: To tell you what the… I’m not really-
Sarah Banowetz: It’s probably at… I would imagine Amish Connection.
Christa Thompson: It might be Amish Connection IA, or Amish Connection Iowa because there are other Amish Connections in the country. It’s not a chain. But there are others.
Sarah Banowetz: That’s good to know.
Christa Thompson: Yeah.
Sarah Banowetz: So, awesome. Well, thanks for being on the podcast.
Christa Thompson: Yes. Thanks for having me.
Sara Leisinger: Thank you for joining us today. So much fun.
Sarah Banowetz: And for everyone interested in… You should, you should like and subscribe to the Sara(h)Squared podcast.
Sara Leisinger: Yep, come on. Join the fun.
Sarah Banowetz: Along with liking the Amish Connection Facebook page, right.
Sara Leisinger: Absolutely.
Christa Thompson: Please.
Sarah Banowetz: And finding… Is your new Pinterest account set?
Christa Thompson: It is set, it’s very minimal because of my issues of size.
Sarah Banowetz: Well, you need to go and-
Christa Thompson: Go follow us, we’ll add.
Sarah Banowetz: Yeah.
Sara Leisinger: Yeah. You need to book an appointment. Come on. Get that consultation that you’ve been wanting to book.
Christa Thompson: There you go.
Sarah Banowetz: We will see you next time. Thanks for tuning in. Bye.
Sara Leisinger: Bye.