Going viral: Ottawa appliance retailer makes it big on TikTok
From the HGO Merchandiser
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.
“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.
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.”