When Mark and Rhonda Palmer first took their woodworking business, Grands Designs, to markets, their most popular items were their rectangular cutting boards and  “llama that’s similar to the llama character in Fortnite” ornaments. Now, charcuterie serving boards and unicorn magnets have taken over as their top sellers. 

“We listen to customers, and we find out, ‘What are their interests? What are they doing? What are they into?’” Mark said.

The Fortnite llama came about as a suggestion from the Palmers’ nine-year-old grandson ; who is a fan of the online video game, but Palmer attributes the newfound popularity of the handled cutting boards to the recent trend in homemade charcuterie boards.

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Using tools like social media, small businesses can establish a presence and connect with customers even without a brick-and-mortar store.  

 

“When we started our business three and a half years ago, most of the boards I saw were rectangular.” Palmer said. “Now I sell probably three handled boards for every rectangular board.” 

While social media helps the Palmers discover trends, it also helps customers discover their business. Most of their orders originate from social media, but it’s not without a lot of effort. 

They have a Grands Designs website, but realized that most customers find their website through their social media. The couple have learned to play to their strengths, posting nearly every day on either Facebook or Instagram, but it’s taken them some practice to learn how to refine their content. 

“One of the things I’ve become really aware of is trying to edit so it’s concise, so the most important things are in the first sentence,” Palmer said. “I know someone looks—they see the first five words.”

The Palmers’ dedication has paid off—they estimate that a year ago, they had about 400 followers on Instagram. Now, their Instagram boasts 1156 followers. Their Facebook page has 486 likes, but the former is where the followers count, according to ECommerceCeo—68% of Instagram users engage with brands regularly, compared to just 32% of Facebook users.

While these social media platforms facilitate business from new or non-local customers ; it also allows them to maintain their local connections without reliance upon a brick and mortar store. 

E-commerce accounts for many of their sales, but the Palmers benefit from having a few consistent selling locations in Athens. They frequent several markets throughout the year, and print fliers for their customers with where they’ll be for the month. 

“In one manner of speaking twice, two days a week, we have a brick and mortar in Athens,” Palmer said. “For us, that is the point of contact for repeat customers.”

Every time they set up a stall, the Palmers update their social media with their whereabouts, along with periodic updates on which markets and trade shows they’ll be frequenting for the season.

Tools like Square also allow them to keep their business mobile and accommodate most customers. The mobile card reader lets them accept card purchases without being beholden to a bank, as well as facilitating sales at trade shows, at which Palmer estimates most of their transactions are done with cards. This shift is a reflection of a nationwide trend–according to the 2019 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice, cash transactions have been decreasing nationally, with their percentage of total purchases down to 30% last year from 33% in 2017. 

Even though business has been booming recently, the Palmers don’t see a physical store in their future. They’re looking forward to retirement soon.

“Our decision not to have a brick and mortar really reflects that,” Palmer said. “We’re not even looking to grow a large small business.”

Janani Rammohan is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. 

 

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