How Does A Small Specialty Shop Survive In The Big City?

Teresa Soroka, a finance vet and the owner of NYC specialty boutique Amé Amé discusses how location and location-based advertising does ­— and doesn’t — work for her business.

On an overcast spring day, GeoMarketing took a field trip to Amé Amé, a specialty shop that retails raingear, candy (“amé” is the Japanese word for both rain and candy), and other novel and/or fashionable odds and ends. The business, which opened its doors in 2011, operates primarily on physical, in-store sales. Teresa Soroka, the store’s owner, invited us in to talk shop — specifically in terms of location and location-based advertising.

Teresa Soroka, Owner of Ame Ame
Teresa Soroka, Owner of Ame Ame

“A New Yorker should never be shown a Geico commercial,” Soroka says, referring to an experience watching Hulu. “It’s a waste of money, and it’s obnoxious, because how many of us in this city even have cars?”

When it comes to advertising, Soroka knows her stuff. Prior to her opening Amé Amé, the Princeton grad held the title of VP of Finance & Director of Operations at real-time online advertising platform AppNexus. Having been in that role for nearly four years, Soroka was responsible for much of the business’ forecasting and modeling.

But when it comes to running her own business, Soroka has been faced with profound new challenges. She’s experimenting with various location-based advertising tools and learning that each is its own bag of tricks, some trickier than others.

Where’s The Love In A Facebook Like?

Facebook has been making big moves to get small businesses on board with its self-serve ad platform to small and medium businesses. This past summer, the social media titan hosted Facebook Fit, a string of workshops aimed at SMB owners who are looking to better understand and embrace the platform. But Soroka isn’t entirely sold on the values ­– or the transparency ­– ­of Facebook’s offerings.

“Getting liked is always a challenge,” Soroka says, referring to a brand’s Facebook page. “I think it’s getting harder because everyone is being asked to like everything, right? And what does it even mean to ‘like it?’”

1526191_10152913153724625_1576845127_nSuch concerns may come off as cynical, but Soroka has a point. Any avid Facebook user can likely attest to the inrush of “Like” requests on a near-daily basis. What is the consumer behavior behind liking something on Facebook, and what behavior must a retailer exhibit to claim that “Like” that is increasingly vied for?

Soroka has other questions about Facebook, such as: Who is seeing what posts and why?

“Facebook has filtered out whether or not you’re even seeing information,” Soroka says. “So there’s this big confusion as to what people are seeing and when you find that only 35 out of 300 people saw your post, it’s a disincentive [to post].”

Local Shop, International Buyers

Though Amé Amé is based in NYC, Soroka has attracted consumer interest from overseas. It’s not unusual for shoppers based in Japan or Thailand (both countries where Soroka has lived) to drop into Amé Amé while in town. And so Soroka needs to be able to aptly target ads to them as much as she would people living in the big Apple. This is another area where she finds Facebook lacking.

“When you start to get international customers, as I have, how do you provide them relevant information [on Facebook]?” asks Soroka. “I find it very frustrating that you can’t narrow down how you’re targeting your audience, your own customers that way. We don’t get that power.”

It’s not just to us that Soroka is venting frustrations; she’s gone straight to the source itself, Facebook, to voice her concerns. It would seem that didn’t go so well.

“I just finally talked to Facebook,” she says, shaking her head. “And now I’m finally fed up.”

Instagram Works

Despite frustrations, Soroka is still posting regularly on Amé Amé’s Facebook page, and frequently sharing Instagram posts there. Instagram is a platform that Soroka has found is more effective in showcasing her unique collections so as to rouse curiosity and potentially drive in-store traffic.

“Instagram is definitely of use,” Soroka says, “And people are telling me to put more [content] up.”

Last spring, Soroka ran an Instagram-based campaign that, using the hashtag “GoddessesOfRain,” featured women posing in front of Amé Amé wearing rain slickers and umbrellas that could be found in the store.

“I hope to be doing more of those again,” Soroka says, adding that the power of photography is one she feels translates well for her products.

Location Can Make Or Break You

Soroka has always been interested in pegging down effective advertising tools for her shop, but lately the pressure has been especially intense. Earlier this year, a dramatic spike in rent forced Soroka out of her East Village location. The area had been ideal for Amé Amé. It’s a part of town that appreciates novelty and cuteness and is home to many small, posh boutiques that make such qualities a priority.

Amé Amé moved to the Flatiron district. Now on W. 29th street near Broadway, the shop shares a storefront with a wholesale jewelry retailer, a shop that doesn’t exactly go for a specialty feel.

“In this new location I’m forced to think about marketing a lot more,” Soroka says. “In the East Village I had a great location and I knew [many] of the retail consumers and there was a boutique shopping [mentality].”

Is E-Commerce The Next Step?

To drive awareness of Amé Amé to locals and other passersby, Soroka depends on signage. She places sandwich boards in front of the store that announce special offers, new arrivals, or simply share an inspiring quote that may get the brain thinking rain and candy. But a sign on a street can only do so much, or so little.

1619162_10153037353519625_205513926_nAdmittedly juggling too many things at once as the sole owner and main employee of Amé Amé, Soroka is still doing her homework on what local advertising tools can benefit her business.

Yelp, she says, has been “semi-strong,” in driving people to her store. She gave LocalVox a chance, but eventually had to cut it out due to budgetary constraints.

“I can’t afford the big black question as to what my real ROI will be [with such services] right now,” Soroka says. “I think I really have to start upping my e-commerce game.”