How TikTok is helping local entrepreneurs take small businesses from Fort Wayne to worldwide

In the creation of any business, the founder has a duty to inform about his product or service. The way a company is marketed can make or break a new business.

This can be especially taxing for local entrepreneurs running the show alone. Jumping into branding and marketing can be intimidating. For some, it may even seem like a waste of time to compete with big brands online.

According to a 2022 Forbes article, With over 270 million active social media users, social media platforms can provide many opportunities for small businesses to grow online brand awareness, increase website traffic, and sell products.

For those brave enough to decide to take their business online, sometimes due to careful research, sometimes due to luck, it can pay off and take their customer base from Northeast Indiana to all over the world. .

Kyle Sommer, owner of Sommer Letter Company.Kyle Sommer of Fort Wayne is one of those intrepid business owners who has seen the benefits of social media firsthand. He is the owner Samer Letter Company And has more than 166,000 followers and 2 million likes On TikTok. The videos on the Sommer Letter Co. page. They have between a few thousand and 3.9 million views. on Instagram, The business has more than seven thousand followers.

Sommer describes his start in the regular stationary business. She created her own wedding invitations and soon after friends started asking her to make theirs. He was a high school Spanish teacher, but at the time he was going through a mental health crisis and decided it was best for him to leave teaching and pursue his art.

@sommerletterco 7 year journey of my small business #smallbusinesscheck #smallbusinessjourney #stationerybusiness #artistsoftiktok ♬ Home – Edith Whiskers

In 2015, he launched Sommer Letter by setting up a studio in the basement of his mother’s house. Looking back, Summer describes this leap of faith with great gratitude. He says that it would not have been possible for him to devote time to entrepreneurship and start a stationery business without his wife’s support and patience.

Products designed by Sommer Letter Co.Sommer Letter’s first products were greeting cards, phone cases and notepads, which it sold at farmers markets and pop-up stores in Fort Wayne and Chicago. While he found the Fort Wayne community supportive and encouraging of his business, he was losing money on these events.

“I really feel a lot of support from Fort Wayne,” he says. “Honestly, the reasons I struggled were mostly due to my lack of business knowledge and my lack of understanding of marketing and how to reach my customers.”

In 2020, Covid-19 shut down many of the events Summer would normally travel to, forcing her to rethink how she communicates with potential clients.

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Notebook from Sommer Letter Company.Forbes suggests that small businesses often don’t have the financial resources to pay for marketing, so for Sommer, whose small business already had a limited budget, the solution wasn’t as simple as paying for marketing to get new customers.

While researching how to market her business, Summer noticed a friend and fellow stationery owner. Betsy Garcia of Bloomwolf Studios in Florida. Get 10,000 followers in one month on TikTok. After talking to Betsy about using TikTok as a way to market products, Summer felt it was time to contribute to the video program.

He decided to give himself 60 days to test TikTok as a marketing tactic. At the end of 60 days, he evaluates. Does this make a difference in my result? Is it worth my time? Did I like to learn the program? Do I understand the culture? Have I given it a fair shot?

@sommerletterco A little about why I make greeting cards. #mental health issues #greeting card #depression anxiety #softtalk artist ♬ original sound – Sommer Letter Co.

The trial period was not easy, and he found that there was a learning curve to using the program.

“It felt like an old lady walking into a very noisy passageway,” Summer says. “There were a lot of flashing things on the screen and noises and trends. I was not cultured. I didn’t use TikTok, so I felt very inadequate. “But if I’ve learned anything as an entrepreneur, it’s that you have to learn by trial and error.”

Summer managed to get over 10,000 views over the weekend after posting her second TikTok video, with only 12 followers at the time. The video wasn’t focused on his company or products, it was a tool recommendation for other artists, he knew right away that TikTok was going to work for his business.

@sommerletterco Did I mention this lamp is made by a small, family business? They are the cutest ppl everrrrr #artistsoftiktok #smallbusinesstiktok #artisttok ♬ Original Sound – Sommer Letter Co.

“I don’t want to say it was easy, because it wasn’t easy to be successful there, but it happened very quickly,” Summer says. “Partly because at that point I had developed five years of business knowledge and marketing knowledge, so that when I got into TikTok, I was well equipped to run with it.”

And he did. Summer found a unique way to show her products to her audience, putting them behind the scenes of a small business owner and artist. Less than a year after using TikTok, he went viral for his planners, selling a year’s worth of inventory in less than 24 hours.

@sommerletterco Reply to @katiejinright WHERE MY PLANNER PPL at ��❤️���� #plannerbusiness #plannertok #shopifystore #smallbusinesstok ♬ Original Voice – Sommer Letter Co.

Sommer says that before using TikTok, his customer base was mainly from the region. Currently, he has clients all over the world. He’s also managed to translate a small portion of his TikTok following into a community on Instagram, where he shares similar content and answers questions or shares a part of his work day almost every day on his Instagram story.

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Inside Sommer Letter’s popular planner.Sommer Letter Company is one example of a local business that is venturing online to reach a new audience. While Samer credits his success to a lot of trial and error, another local company credits his international customer base to good timing and natural growth.

urban hippie One of the staples of the clothing market is Fort Wayne Boutique, now located in downtown Landing. On TikTok, the store has more than 405,000 followers. With over 6.3 million likes. The videos on their page regularly receive between 5,000 and hundreds of thousands of views. On Instagramthey have over 37,000 followers.

The boutique offers women’s clothing and accessories in a unique mix of hippie and trendy, modern and bohemian and urban styles that owner Tammy Castleberry says reflects her personal style. Castleberry says she struggled for years to find a dress that matched her style in Fort Wayne, so she decided to find a boutique that would fill the gap.

The exterior of The Urban Hippie’s new location at 111 W Columbia St Ste 101, Fort Wayne, IN 46802.She began her career in the clothing industry by buying off-the-shelf items from stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdales and then selling them on eBay. Eventually, she rented a small studio space in downtown Fort Wayne to use, where she decorated an old refrigerator full of booze and often had friends gather around and sell the clothes she sold. They were trying.

He loved the environment, so when selling on eBay became more complicated, Castleberry opted to leave the online market. But he didn’t want to leave fashion or his studio behind.

The seating area at The Urban Hippie’s new location at The Landing.“I decided that if I’m still going to do this, I’m going to sell what I want to sell,” Castleberry says. So I’m going to buy the dress I’ve always wanted in Fort Wayne, but never been able to find.

While he initially kept his operation online, friends noted that his downtown Fort Wayne studio was already set up to hold a storefront, so he may be open to the public. He did, and The Urban Hippie quickly became a popular spot with its cool vibe and vintage features, like an old bank safe and filing cabinets on the wall. A few years later, to 534 West Berry St. Downtown expanded and continued to grow. But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Castleberry says he knew things would be different.

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“I knew the store traffic was going to be very light,” Castleberry says. “People were very hesitant. I knew that if that was the case, I probably wouldn’t be able to survive with just brick and mortar. So I decided to work on social networks.”

Since the boutique’s inception, Castleberry has run The Urban Hippie’s social media, running ideas for her own posts and model calls. He made it a point to showcase Fort Wayne’s iconic locations on his social media. Even before the downtown revitalization, people had a fondness for it in their hearts, he says. Places like Coney Island, The Landing, or any of the beautiful church towers found in the fort have given the city’s hippie background a following.

While Castleberry wasn’t unhappy with the brand’s online presence, he sought to join TikTok, knowing that online business was crucial to surviving the pandemic. So The Urban Hippie made a model call, as it has done many times before, but this time Castleberry connected with Fort Wayne’s Delaney Rilley. Reilly had a growing audience on TikTok, and Castleberry wanted to put her brand on the app. The two made a deal. Riley takes over The Urban Hippie accounts and grows the brand’s presence on TikTok.

In the two years since Riley’s social media reign, they’ve doubled their followers on Instagram and grown a huge audience on TikTok.


Del wanted to make sure you were the first to know

♬ Original Sound – Joshua Myburgh

“I’m very lucky to have found him the way I did,” Castleberry says. “It happened at a very important time and the timing couldn’t have been better. This growth was not predictable.”

Through Riley, The Urban Hippie was able to grow its online business, which is larger than its brick-and-mortar business. Castleberry admits that online is not her preferred way of doing business, but it has allowed the boutique to continue to grow.

In October, the store moved to the Landing for the third time, bringing the same charming vibe created at the first Castleberry studio. Now, as the first retail store in the Landing, Castleberry recognizes that the move is somewhat of a gamble to be among restaurants and breweries. But he hopes the new location will attract customers and help even out the ratio of online business to in-person.

Inside The Urban Hippie’s new location at 111 W Columbia St Ste 101, Fort Wayne, IN 46802.Castleberry says social media can be a struggle for small businesses. Trying to find your voice and style in ever changing programs can be difficult and can be a huge investment in time and money. But it can work.


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