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How Viral TikToks Are Helping Main Street Businesses Take Off


May 5, 2021

Once hailed as just an app for Gen-Zers, TikTok has become a crucial social media tool for companies looking to attract customers of all ages. And while that might seem like an obvious strategy for an e-commerce brand that does all of its sales online, increasingly the short-form video app also is helping brick-and-mortar businesses take off. Below, several business owners explain how they found success on the app and the strategies they’re using to keep the momentum going.

Take people behind the scenes
Nina Berenato started making TikToks about how she creates jewelry by hand in her studio and retail space in the Domain Northside neighborhood of Austin to drum up online sales during quarantine. The account drove about 80 percent of the company’s e-commerce business and helped get the store through Covid-19.

One move that helped: Berenato made a TikTok explaining how her jewelry was featured in Beyonce’s July 2020 music film Black Is King after a friend had recommended her to the singer’s team as someone who could work fast. Beyonce’s team reached out and requested 20 pieces to be delivered in 48 hours. Berenato pulled it off, and her TikTok video about the experience racked up 1.5 million views in 24 hours.

To keep the momentum going, she posts plenty of behind-the-scenes videos of her employees and specific pieces of eye-catching jewelry, which tend to drive people into the store to see the items in person. Overall, Berenato estimates TikTok drives about 30 percent of her online and in-person sales. She tries to post on the platform at least three times a week. “Now, being a content creator is half my job,” she says, though she’s learned she needs to detach from likes and comments as measures of success. “You cannot let the approval of the internet become your approval of yourself,” she advises.

Highlight in-person exclusives
Wake-n-Bakery, in Lakeview in Chicago, sells food and drinks featuring a form of cannabis known as Delta 8. Owners Brianna Banks and M. Lotfy say the company started posting TikToks in October with the goal of educating people about Delta 8, which is a less potent cousin to Delta 9, or regular cannabis.

Wake-n-Bakery’s first brush with virality on the platform was when an employee toured the space and showed off its cannabis-infused treats. The video generated thousands of views and lines around the block to the store.

Now Banks says monthly in-store sales are up 80 percent from pre-TikTok days. She attributes that to the brand’s strategy of consistently posting videos–mostly made by employees–which range from funny clips to in-depth explainers. The bakery hosts “TikTok Tuesdays” every week inviting influencers to the shop, who get free products as long as they make TikToks or post on Instagram about the store. Wake-n-Bakery also drives in-person traffic by announcing giveaways on TikTok featuring products made in partnership with local businesses, such as pizza restaurants.

Banks and Lotfy say focusing on Delta 8 products and using TikTok to market them has helped shift their growth plans into overdrive. They redesigned their website, hired 25 more employees to what is now a 28-person staff, and plan to open two locations in 2021. For months, they have been working straight from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. to keep up with the increased demand. “Be careful what you wish for,” Lotfy jokes.