STANLY MAGAZINE: Meet the Influencers

Businesses in 2023 depend greatly on the power of social media for connecting with the community.

Stanly County has many local businesses which do more than just sell goods online. Many people have become local influencers and content creators for social media, marketing products but also building a following to promote their ideas and change the way companies and people think.

Livi Bug’s

In the case of Olivia Phillips, before she had a store in Albemarle, her presence on social media built a community. It has grown exponentially since 2019.

Phillips started posting her outfits daily on Instagram, which helped build a community of followers.

“It’s a never-ending building that people are trying to grow and reach the community,” Phillips said. “I feel like being consistent and actually forming meaningful relationships with people — that’s what’s helped me to stay and grow at the number I am.”

The amount of followers, she added, both on her online brand, theoliviaphillips, and the boutique, are not as important as interactions with followers. Interactions like direct messages, comments on posts, clicks on links and such are what companies notice now, but early on, she added, it was about the follower numbers.

Olivia Phillips owns Livi Bug’s in downtown Albemarle.

“You can grow (followers) but not have engagements or people interested in what you are talking about or promoting,” Phillips said. “It’s much more important to have an actual community and engagement.”

She said being a content creator is like having a full-time job in addition to running a small business.

“On my weekends when the store is closed, I devote almost an eight-hour day to film content for the week,” Phillips said, which is called batching.

She gets help from her husband or uses a tripod to film outfits, then posts those throughout the week.

But creating content, she added, also means interacting with followers, answering messages, responding to comments and writing captions with some thought.

“It takes a lot of time and effort, for sure,” Phillips said.

Online efforts, she said, are less professionally curated these days, with people trying to make food, fashion and more look perfect every time.

“In the last year, I have really seen a huge change. People want more unfiltered media content. It’s more about the videos,” Phillips said.

Those videos are usually shorter for online apps like Instagram Reels and TikTok.

“People want to see more of your everyday life. I’ve shifted from an outfit of the day that is polished to get ready with me videos, daily blogs — the unedited, normal side of your life,” Phillips said.

Sharing part of one’s personal life, however, can be invasive, but it is up to the content creator to draw the line.

“I share as much as I’m comfortable with,” Phillips said. “If you ever have those times when people are asking questions or sending you DMs, wanting to know more and it’s crossing the line, it’s up to you to cut that off and only share what you want.”

She said she is always genuine in what she posts on social media.

“It takes that follower following you for a little length of time to grow to understand you and realize who you are.”

Products she promotes online are only ones she likes or feels “like I truly would spend my own money on.”

“It’s easy to see an influencer share something and you’re like, ‘Well, of course they like it. They got it for free.’ It’s important to me to be upfront and honest.”

Phillips has several brands with whom she has worked, including three years with Aerie and two years with Ulla Pumpkin.

“When you have that longer lasting relationship, I feel it goes further. It helps the brand and the influencer more. I feel like my followers know and trust that brand as well. I prefer that to one-offs,” Phillips said.

She said companies love getting the feedback from her followers and will engage with their feedback. Any negative feedback, she said, as a plus-size fashion content creator, usually deals with inclusive sizing.

Good or bad feedback, Phillips said, all goes back to the companies with whom she works. She said she feels a responsibility to her followers to report their feelings back to companies.

Phillips said she sees herself continuing to develop the Albemarle store, her “happy place,” as well as growing her online community.

“I’m really proud of the relationships I have with people.”

Cache Noir

Melissa Perruquet and her husband own Cache Noir, a brick and mortar business in Norwood which began five years ago when they moved to Lake Tillery.

A high-end fashion boutique, Perruquet said the business got started in part because she liked to shop, but stores were at least an hour away.

Melissa Perruquet and her husband own Cache Noir in Norwood.

Her husband suggested she open a boutique after having spent 22 years as a technician for an ophthalmologist.

However, she was tenuous about opening the store because she said she “could not see anybody in Norwood wanting to spend the amount of money for clothes that I like to carry.”

What started as four racks and a table has grown in three years to 1,500 square feet and a business which communicates with customers via social media.

Doing business on Facebook and Instagram, Cache Noir sells and ships women’s fashion products to as far away as California and Washington.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how people shopped, Perruquet said, so many shoppers are used to buying from her store online. However, she said, the store gets a lot of in-person traffic from vacation home owners on the lake.

“I’ve got a customer base now, but it has been pretty consistent from the beginning,” Perruquet said.

Having Reservoir Coffee in the back of the store also has helped build the community around her store, which she said “feels like I have a home, some roots in Norwood.”

Like other local influencers, Perruquet said social media marketing “is a whole other job which comes with the store.”

She tries to form her content, she added, to be the kind of posts which she is interested when scrolling social media.

Helping her create social media content, along with running the store, is Hannah Crump, who said she has learned so much working at Cache Noir.

“To know Melissa is to love her. Everybody in this town absolutely loves her. She’s been one of the biggest influences on me,” Crump said. “I have met so many people through her. I’ve seen the town grow, with her, with Robin (Davis) and the building.”

Having regular content as well, with a story or outfit of the day, gives people a reason to seek out her content.

“They watch it on purpose. So a lot of times I don’t have to necessarily have to get new ideas. I explain what and how I wear, different ways I can wear it,” Perruquet said.

Cache Noir does not reach out to brands to feature them on social media, she added.

“I stay with the ones that I wear, that I wore before, that last.”

She also said she has not tried to branch out and get more customers because “it’s just still me and it’s busy enough keeping me busy with doing (online) stories every day.”

Perruquet said she does not order anything for the store with which she is not familiar, adding the products she sells have to have three basic components.

“It has to be soft, comfort wise. It has to be durable and it has to be able to be washed in the washing machine,” Perruquet said.

Her fashions run more expensive than some, she added, because they are nicer quality and meant to be worn longer than one year.

“That’s what the customers like about my stories because they are getting a quality piece no one else has,” Perruquet said.

Many times she has had to leave her store wearing a different outfit because someone wanted what she was wearing.

“It happens all the time. (Customers) know and are like, ‘Is that the last one?’ And I’m like, ‘Seriously, people?’ ” she said.

Quite often, she said, she will see people by appointment as well at the store, and items not even listed online get out to people by word of mouth.

Cache Noir has customers ages 15 to 75, she added, and many think it’s more trendy.

Crump said she has learned how to deal with customers from Perroquet’s example, asking what would Melissa do?

“I see myself here always. I don’t intend to go…I’ve been here three years in May and I love it.”

Social media, Crump said, plays a huge role in the success of the boutique.

“We have reached so many people that way. It’s convenient,” Crump said.

The style of the fashions offered by Cache Noir, Perruquet said, will not change.

“My style is classic. It doesn’t change. Anything you get in my store today, you could have gotten two years ago and two years from now.”

The Right Cuts

Influencing one’s business online, though, does not necessarily entail selling products online.

In the case of the Hair Unlimited Beauty Saloon in Albemarle, social media is about building business more than trying to maintain a presence.

Salon owner Taylor Burleson said hair styling is far less about finding a style in a magazine and more about seeing styles on social media. She said she does not even think those magazines are printed anymore, saying most times the stylists are working off a photo on someone’s phone from social media.

Summer Hahn, left, and Taylor Burleson style the hair of Taylor Bell.

“(Customers) don’t have magazines anymore. They go to Pinterest, they go to Instagram…they specifically go to your Instagram to see how you do your work,” Burleson said. “I think I have a love-hate relationship with (social media) because it’s taxing to just always be doing it. But other times, it’s the only way to grow your business.”

Keeping a presence online takes a lot of time, she said, noting she has to find the right caption, the right picture.

However, having a brick and mortar business whose stock is not sold online, Burleson said, means having to get her name out to people. Early in her career, it meant having to “pound the pavement,” going everywhere to introduce herself.

In terms of hair styling, she said, the process is reversed with influencing. Instead of wanting to cater to everyone, Burleson added, now it’s more like, “This is my phone. This is what I offer. If you like what I offer, you come to me.”

Developing the right vibe for the salon, Burleson said, is also important, adding Hair Unlimited works as a community instead of just independent contractors who do their own thing.

Keeping the salon’s name out, she said, helps build trust, especially when dealing with parts of hair styling like doing highlights.

“If you call (a new salon) and ask to get highlights, they’re putting chemicals on your head. You’ve never met them before. You don’t know their skill level. You don’t know what they specialize in. There’s a very big open area to get something wrong,” Burleson said. “It leaves a grey area which we like to limit as much as possible.”

Creating content online, the salon owner added, is something for which she designates time, but she said she would rather have it happen organically for her business.