in the press
Social-Media Savvy Winter Haven Boutique Owner Hasn’t Paid for Advertising
M.Marie fashion boutique owner Meghan Gullen says she didn't feel like people took her seriously when she first started her business. Almost three years later, she thinks that has changed.
By RYAN E. LITTLETHE LEDGER WINTER HAVEN | Tucked in the back of High Pointe Centre on Cypress Gardens Boulevard is a small boutique with higher-priced fashion: $500 Nixon watches, $54 CHASOR T-shirts and $128 Free People dresses.
It's an odd place for a boutique with the style M.Marie has. The shopping center has more banks than retail stores and is miles away from a store like it.
Some people didn't think its younger, hipper feel fit into Winter Haven. And in the beginning, there were some days the store was open but never saw a customer.
"I feel like people kind of didn't take me seriously, but now that I've been open almost three years I feel like I'm starting to earn respect," said shop owner Meghan Gullen, 25, who grew up in Winter Haven.
"At first I felt like, 'Oh, this girl, she is trying to do this. It will never work.' I even heard people talking here and there ... It was kind of discouraging, but I don't know, it's working."
Three years later, the store at 6348 Cypress Gardens Blvd. in Winter Haven is thriving mostly because of Gullen's commitment to social media, where her regular customers watch for new styles and fashion news that Gullen posts daily.
"That's how I do most of my shopping in her store," said Danyel Lashley. 23, who lives in Winter Haven.
Lashley follows M.Marie's Facebook page, and when a picture of a new Rolling Stones T-shirt on singer Miley Cyrus or a royal blue double-layer dress shows up in an Instagram photo and Lashley likes it, she's over there to pick it up.
"Facebook was huge for me because I just kept posting ... and my Facebook started hitting it off and people started telling their friends to look on Facebook," Gullen said.
"I haven't even advertised anywhere, just Facebook (and Twitter)."
M.Marie has 2,836 Facebook "Likes," 229 followers on Twitter and 523 follows on Instagram.
By contrast, singer Jim Stafford's "Home for Christmas" show got 41 "likes" on Facebook. The Landings at Winter Haven group page has 633 members and the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce has 531 "Likes."
Other entrepreneurs in Winter Haven are just getting started in social media. Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Gernert said a recent session on social media in marketing program put on by the chamber was easily the most popular class. It was standing room only.
"It's a trend in business everywhere," Gernert said. "I think you've got established entrepreneurs who have never used social media who are struggling to find ways to adapt to it.
"If you don't use it in a way that attracts people who use it and want to follow, you are not going to get anything out of it. It's an art in and of itself."
For Gullen, who has a bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising and apparel design from Florida State University, social media has been the easiest part of the job.
"I don't really find Facebook as a challenge because I like to do it," Gullen said.
"I kind of enjoy doing it. I like all the social stuff."
In contrast to more established entrepreneurs trying to learn social media, Gullen has struggled more with traditional business problems: managing cash flow and working toward paying back the loan she used to open the store — she's halfway there, though.
"But actually, you know what I always say is the biggest challenge is picking out things that I think people will like," Gullen said. "That is so hard because I tend to pick out all the things that I like ... it's kind of hard to try to think from someone else's perspective."
But if staying open in Winter Haven for the three worst economic years in recent memory is any measure, Gullen seems to know how to keep customers happy.