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From gourmet to Groupon

For Oviedo-based Cavallari Gourmet, getting new customers to come through the door can sometimes be challenging.

For Oviedo-based Cavallari Gourmet, getting new customers to come through the door can sometimes be challenging.

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For Oviedo-based Cavallari Gourmet, getting new customers to come through the door can sometimes be challenging. That’s why owner Joe Sberna did something that many new small businesses are doing: He jumped into the booming social media scene.

Social media use has erupted in the past year and almost any business, big or small, is actively using Facebook and Twitter. But new websites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, which offer daily deals to consumers at huge discounts — sometimes up to 90 percent — are starting to get more attention.

Sberna was approached by Groupon after they received numerous requests from current customers. Despite first being skeptical, Sberna eventually agreed, and on Feb. 21, he offered a $10 for $20 worth of groceries deal on the site.

The result was more than 2,200 Groupons being purchased; the minimum for the deal to go through was 50. But despite selling much more than anticipated, Sberna is not entirely pleased.

“[I’m] disappointed in new faces brought in thus far,” he said. “It is still going through May, but most people who buy it are already familiar with us. You can’t justify [advertising] if it doesn’t get new people in our store.”

“We have a loyal customer base,” Sberna said. “But it has ended up being a customer appreciation.”

Facebook still dominates

Not your typical pawn shop, Winter Park-based La Familia Pawn and Jewelry has fully embraced the social media world. It’s on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. Owners say the social media push has helped lead to the company opening 18 stores in the past 18 months throughout Florida and Puerto Rico and a planned 40 by year’s end.

CEO John Thedford said that one of La Familia’s objectives is to embrace technology.

Social Media Manager Jennifer Whitcomb said the company’s biggest initiative has been on Facebook and that they are one of the first in the pawn industry to utilize social media.

“We are really the pioneers [in the pawn industry],” she said.

Whitcomb said that employees are helping out by frequently posting business-related comments to La Familia’s Facebook page as well as their own pages.

The business’ biggest impact through Facebook is in Puerto Rico, which Thedford said is the No. 10 Facebook market in the world. It has helped them build relationships with their customers.

Whitcomb said that recently a customer in Puerto Rico was attempting to sell a heavy generator that was difficult to move, but did not have a phone to call the local pawn shop. The customer contacted Whitcomb, who communicated with the customer through Twitter and e-mail to negotiate a transaction.

Social media is also a prime avenue for quick advertising. Thedford said that they advertise weekend ads on Facebook, as well as Twitter and their personal website.

Why small businesses?

Economists claim that the recession ended in June 2009, but small businesses such as Cavallari and La Familia are still testing new ways to jump-start their business.

Oviedo-Winter Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cory Skeates said social media advertising has an advantage for small businesses.

“It is an inexpensive way to target specific clientele they are looking for,” Skeates said.

Skeates warned that small businesses need to be sure they are using social media correctly.

“It needs to be focused and targeted to the right audience,” he said. “If not done properly, it could miss those it was intended for.”

Will the social media trend wear off?

Groupon’s spokeswoman Julie Mossler expects more small businesses to continue the social media craze.

“Collective buying isn’t a fad,” she wrote via e-mail. “Groupon has changed the face of online marketing and local commerce, and as the industry evolves more and more, local merchants will benefit.”

Mossler thinks that Groupon will continue to grow because its model works across industries.

“From salons to skydiving to sensory deprivation tanks … it’s possible to tweak the model to work for almost any business. Our goal is to connect customers with the best local businesses and things to do. We like more unusual merchants because they spice up the variety of deals offered each week,” she wrote.

Chamber starts similar program

The Oviedo-Winter Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce is launching a new program called Try It Local, an electronic discount program featuring local retailers, restaurants, service providers and more. New deals are offered once a week at a deep discount of 40-90 percent off regular price (i.e., $20 of food and drink at a restaurant for $10). The offers are delivered to Try It Local subscribers via e-mail, social media and TryItLocal.com. There is no cost to sign up. Visit http://www.tryitlocal.com/OviedoWinterSprings to receive deal alerts.