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Going viral: Ottawa appliance retailer makes it big on TikTok

8 August 2022
Appliances, Mattresses, Retail

For the past several decades, almost every furniture, mattress and appliance retailer has used a variety of traditional and modern media – flyers, television, radio, newspaper, online – to promote their store brand, products and services to consumers. With the explosion of platforms such as Facebook, Google and YouTube many have added social media in their arsenal. But few in this industry have utilized TikTok – a social media site based in the People’s Republic of China with over a billion active users from practically everywhere across the globe that allows them to upload short-form mobile videos – as deftly and expertly as Corey McMullan, co-owner McMullan Appliance & Mattress in Smiths Falls, Ontario.

McMullan, who launched the store’s now verified (or ‘blue check marked’) TikTok account (@mcmullanappliance) in March 2020, has watched his follower count grow from just a few thousand viewers to over 370,000 in just over two years (the platform has only been in existence for about six years) – not bad for a single-unit family owned-and-operated merchant in a picturesque town of a little under 10,000 people roughly half-way between Ottawa and Kingston.

Corey McMullen (left) and brother Kyle are seen here outside their family’s store – McMullen Appliance & Mattress – located in Smith Falls, Ontario, about half-way between Ottawa and Kingston.“I downloaded TikTok back in March of 2020 and saw that there were funny videos. I started filming one for my personal channel, and I thought, ‘I can make a super-fast video and put text on it and a music background and have a nice, high-quality video.’ I would then put it on [McMullan’s] Facebook page or YouTube channel but then I started a McMullan channel on TikTok and then the followers started,” McMullan told Home Goods Online in a recent interview.

Once the store’s channel – which currently has some 4.5 million likes, 382,000 followers and a library of more than 200 videos (as this issue of the Merchandiser went to press) – hit 44,000 followers, people started paying attention.

How it started
While McMullan currently operates McMullan Appliance and Mattress in collaboration with his father, Brian and brother Kyle, he has actually worked for a number of other retailers and spent the bulk of his career in the industry as the director of appliances for Cantrex Nationwide, this country’s oldest national buying group.

“I was one of those kids that just loved to go to work with my dad on Saturdays or when I wasn’t in school,” he says. “I was always interested in what my dad was doing. When he started paying me, I was 14. My first job was technically cleaning ashtrays on the washers.”

The McMullan brand was born when Corey’s uncle opened the first McMullan Appliance store in the 1970s. Then in 1990, Brian McMullan opened what was then called simply McMullan Appliance, although in addition to white goods, they also sold furniture and mattresses. “McMullan's have sold appliances in this town for 50 years,” he says.

Corey McMullen as seen on TikTok, the social media platform on which he has posted more than 160 short, usually humorous, videos that are not only entertaining, but strive to give the consumer important information about his store’s product assortment.After moving away from home in 1997, McMullan began working at Atlas Appliances in Calgary, before moving back to Ontario selling appliances, grills and fireplaces for Enbridge Home Services in Hamilton.

In January 2000, he was recruited by Cantrex Nationwide (then a stand-alone organization called Cantrex Group, which was subsequently purchased by Nationwide Marketing Group in March 2012). While at Cantrex, McMullan developed an appliance program called Appliance Expert as well as a bedding program called Mattress World – which had both in-store galleries and stand-alone store fronts.

“I was in charge of digital marketing and successfully created a program that enabled short-term digital events to be automatically implemented across different independent retailers and websites,” he recalls.

While McMullan focused on helping Cantrex members leverage the plethora of marketing options available to them, he was still beholden to more traditional methods and the monotony of same-same flyers and cookie-cutter promotions prompted him to try less orthodox methods to grow the family brand.

McMullan decided to leave Cantrex in 2017 and join his father and brother in the family business the following year. It should be noted McMullen Appliance & Mattress remains a Cantrex member.

“What was the inspiration [for using TikTok]? Being forced to do advertising traditionally for 17 years. For 15 years, I printed flyer after flyer ten times a year and it got so boring. You do a January price freeze or Boxing Week or Black Friday deals, but you’re singing the same message as your competitor. You need to personify your business and have a personality. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd,” he enthuses, noting once he re-joined the family business, he got to work on revamping its marketing strategy.

“I came in and I stopped all print advertising – no more newspaper, no more flyers. I never found them very effective because they were a huge cost and you couldn’t measure anything. YouTube, Facebook and Google AdWords were the three main pillars and business was growing and people were saying they saw us. We tried to stay humorous, we tried to stay personable. It paid off,” McMullen recalls.

“I try to keep it original because you can’t put out the same ads as other retailers, you won’t get the attention,” he continues, “My goal was to build an emotional connection with our brand. ‘Think local, shop local’ was the focus of our ads. We want to be more of a destination, and I don’t use promotional messaging – we don’t talk about price or promotions. We focus on high-quality stuff, and we won’t sell anything that gives us a headache. I wanted to build a brand attachment to McMullan and increase awareness.” 

Click here to read the rest of Ashley’s report…

Urban Barn opens Windsor

8 August 2022
Furniture, Retail

WINDSOR, Ontario – Furniture and home décor chain Urban Barn has opened a new store here while announcing it will open a new flagship store in its hometown Vancouver’s South Granville shopping district sometime later this year.

The new outlet can be found in this city’s recently redeveloped Walker Road Plaza previously home to an IKEA Canada Pick-Up and Order Point location.

The 10,500 square foot store will feature display furniture, wall décor, lighting and other accessories in a range of designs from urban contemporary to modern rustic for people who live in cities, suburbs and lakeside towns.

An exterior view of the new Urban Barn store in Windsor’s Walker Road Plaza in a building that once housed an IKEA Canada Pick-Up and Order Point location.“It’s our mission to help Canadians create homes they love, so we’re excited to be spreading our reach further across the country,” company president Linda Letts said in a statement. “For people in the Windsor region, this means a personalized shopping experience where they’re welcome to see and feel our products, and more choice in designing a space that reflects their personality.”

Urban Barn was founded in 1990 and since 2007 has been owned by the Stearn Group, a Vancouver-based private equity firm that has several other retailers in its investment portfolio, mostly notably Ricki’s, the Canadian women’s fashion house.

There are currently 54 stores in the chain, from Vancouver Island to Quebec.

Marketing director Ainslie Fincham told Retail Insider the new Vancouver flagship will sport a new store design concept the “we’ve been working quite hard on for the last couple of years.”

It will open sometime this fall.

“We don’t have anything else slated for this year, but we are definitely doing a lot of research into the Atlantic Canada marketplace as well as the U.S. with potential expansion but nothing confirmed there yet,” Fincham said.

Like most other furniture and home furnishings retailers, Urban Barn enjoyed a serious uptick in sales throughout the pandemic.

Fincham noted, “We had our best year to date last year in our 30-year history. We’re still seeing very strong sales this year. So, we’re very excited about the engagement in the business that we’re seeing.

“And we’re definitely seeing a very large growth from the e-commerce perspective as many other brands did as well,” she continued, adding, “A lot of consumers are a lot more comfortable with that online shopping experience.”

Article announces lay-offs

8 August 2022
Furniture, Retail

VANCOUVER – Article, this country’s largest digital merchant specializing in furniture, announced this past Friday it is laying-off approximately 17% of its workforce, citing a slowdown in demand as consumers turn away from online shopping and return to brick-and-mortar stores.

The move was reported in a number of Canadian media outlets, such as the Globe & Mail and CBC News as part of an emerging trend across other e-commerce giants who are seeing sales return to pre-pandemic levels. In a similar vein, many brick-and-mortar retailers – such as Sleep Country Canada Holdings – are reporting a slowdown in digital revenue accompanied by an uptick in in-person sales.

Aamir BaigAccording to reports, Article founder and chief executive officer Aamir Baig informed his team that a total of 216 employees were being let go – roughly 17% of the company’s head count.

“This is not your fault, this is my fault,” Baig admitted in a note to staff quoted by several media outlets.

Article was founded in 2011 and the web site went live two years later. The company says it became profitable in 2015, and in a press release published earlier year, said revenue grew 45% between 2020 and 2021. Sources has estimated its revenue at US$160 million – roughly 10% of that was sold to Canadian consumers.

Throughout the pandemic, digital focused company’s saw demand for their goods and services skyrocket. This also happened to brick-and-mortar retailers with strong e-commerce platforms as government-mandated store closures saw shopping move online. Article benefited more than most as consumers with more disposable income spent to spruce up the homes they were confined to during COVID lockdowns.

But with the lifting of restrictions, that trend seems to be reversing itself to some degree.

“We anticipated the trend to online purchasing would be sustained,” Baig said. “That did not happen, and it has since returned to pre-COVID trends.

“Our financial projections showed that we were operating the business at a size larger than current demand would sustain,” he continued, adding, “Put simply, we were living beyond our means. I needed to resize our business to restore our position of financial strength.”

The company also said all affected staff will have access to their benefits for a period of time, receive severance packages and other support services. They will also be allowed to keep company equipment such as laptops in their possession.

Earlier this year, Article’s parent company – TradeMango Solutions – shelved plans to take the digital retailer public.

Increase team engagement and productivity by doing more

8 August 2022
Opinion

Whatever type of business you’re in, how could you benefit from this simple but brilliant insight from one of my consulting firm’s clients? This client, a retailer with 17 branch locations, had problems with staff engagement, low staff productivity and high staff turnover. And it was the best and brightest team members who quit first, because they’re the ones who got bored first.

His gutsy but brilliant solution was to put each of his retail salespeople in charge of merchandising, housekeeping, stock replenishment and staff product knowledge training for one specific area of their store. These jobs were previously done by a bunch of experts from head office who travelled to each location, at great expense, to do them.

Did this mean that he had to do some training for each team member? Absolutely. But the results were spectacular!

The result has been a much higher level of staff interest, commitment and productivity. This improved performance and moral greatly in every store. The staff are more engaged, their jobs are more interesting, they undertake their additional responsibilities during slow periods, rather than just standing around getting bored. And each one of them is worth more, so they’re all paid more. Did a few staff leave because they didn’t want to grow? Yes.

Net result is sales and profits are way up while operating expenses and staff turnover are way down. Staff feel they have a retail career rather than just a retail sales job and, because the staff have taken ownership of running the store wonderfully, the boss now has much more time to plan and grow the business – and to have a life.

This doesn’t mean that you can load up already overworked employees with even more work. That will backfire horribly. What this does mean is if you take the time to rethink and reallocate responsibilities and assignments to enrich everyone’s job, you’ll be amazed at the increase in productivity and engagement of most of your staff.

Whatever type of business you’re in, how could you give your team additional responsibility, more initiative and an opportunity to earn more money? Get their input on how you can all work smarter. Assure them of your commitment to their personal, career and financial growth as you work to improve and grow the business as well as their lives. 

Here’s something else to think about:
Quick business tip: Five great fact-finding and relationship-building questions to ask your staff when chatting with them from Wayne Rivers of the Family Business Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina.

As you work to create a more loyal, committed and efficient team, below are five great questions to ask your staff, individually, when you’re chatting with them. The key is to really listen to their answers. 

  • How’s work going for you these days?
  • What’s most challenging for you on the job? How can we help with that?
  • How would you like to see your career develop in the next few years? How can we help with that?
  • What can we do to make things easier for you to perform effectively?
  • What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

Note: When they tell you, a great follow-up question is, “How did you get into that?” They’ll be delighted to tell you about how they got into fishing or gardening or coaching hockey or building a model railway – or whatever it is.

How can these five questions be helpful to you and what will you do with them?

That’s it for this week. Stay safe. Live brilliantly!

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Home Goods Online.ca and its accompanying newsletter - HGO This Week - covers the furniture, bedding, appliances, consumer electronics, accessories, lamps and lighting and floor coverings product sectors of the big ticket home goods market in Canada. HGO is also a forum for the dissemination of market research and hard-hitting articles on best practices for Canadian retailers.

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