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TikTok videos boost sales, exposure for small eastern Ontario businesses

Eastern Ontario business owners say they've seen sales skyrocket in recent months after turning to TikTok for promotion, where marketing videos go viral.

Orders to a Smiths Falls appliance and mattress store coming in from around North America

Polly Laneville pauses in her Apsley, Ont., candy business, Tastely Box, which has gained recent success, she says, mostly thanks to TikTok. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Eastern Ontario business owners say they've seen sales skyrocket in recent months after turning to TikTok for promotion, where marketing videos go viral.

The video sharing platform has been credited with bringing back the short-form video and a social media culture less focused on carefully curated aspirational content, but rather bite-sized pieces of entertainment taken from day-to-day life.

The formula has worked for Corey McMullan at McMullan Appliance and Mattress in Smiths Falls, Ont., about an hour drive south of Ottawa.

McMullan said he initially downloaded the app reluctantly, but a simple yet powerful video editor piqued his interest.

When he posted clips to YouTube and Facebook in March, they gained little traction. When he turned the camera around to make his own folksy reviews of washing machines and other products soon after, the results were starkly different.

"By August I knew something was changing, with the number of emails and phone calls we were getting, " said McMullan.

Sales went up by "tens of thousands" and he now gets daily emails from as far away as New Zealand and Alabama asking him how to buy his appliances. His profile now nears 70,000 followers.

"They really like the authenticity," said McMullan, adding his low-pressure, light-hearted approach in the videos builds trust.

"Buying appliances is not something anyone wants to do. It's extremely intimidating. You have to trade a lot of money for something and you don't know if you trust the person selling it to you."

Corey McMullan posts a video each day to TikTok, highlighting features and how-to's of the appliances sold at his family's storefront. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Moving from storefront to online

About three hours west of Ottawa in Apsley, Ont., Polly Laneville and her husband James took their love of specialty candy to TikTok.

"We introduced ourselves in one video and that video just completely went insane and blew up. In one 24-hour period we gained 40,000 followers. It was just nothing we ever imagined," said Laneville. 

A month after she began sharing cheerful, short candy reviews in her Willy Wonka-inspired storefront, she and her husband quit their day jobs to focus on the business called Tastely Box.

They now have nearly 250,000 followers to their account where they share daily 15-second candy Q&As, as well as reviews of extremely sour candies from around the world. The Lanevilles plan to shift their focus to sell online to the international audience and simultaneously shrink the storefront.

Laneville admits the store was created mainly as window-dressing for her TikTok videos.

"People like to feel that you are interested in what they have to say," she said about her daily request for candy reviews.

"We try to make it quirky and let people see our real personalities and get a real review from us. I don't want to say that everything is amazing because not everything is!"

TikTok is a democratization of marketing creativity

TikTok's explosion as a marketing tool for small business is a natural continuation of collaboration, or what's called "co-creation," which started about a decade ago, according to Aron Darmody, a marketing professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business.

Darmody says the app allows for businesses to hold a greater power to create and "play" with a brand's meaning, which is a "democratization of creativity" in marketing.

"Consumers are given licence and free reign to, in some sense work for the brand ... use the brand as a cultural resource in their lives," he said, adding the site's appeal also comes from the fact it isn't saturated by paid advertisements.

We speak to one appliance store that's seen a big boost from social media.

For Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, TikTok allows for a "soft-sell" approach where retailers can sell far beyond a country's borders. 

"It feels more like an entertainment platform," said Geist.

A year ago, Ottawa-based e-commerce company Shopify announced it would partner with TikTok to help its then one million-plus merchants more easily advertise their products on the video-sharing app.

Tastely Box sources curated collections of international candies and ships them to lovers of sweets all around the world. (Stu Mills/CBC)

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