SPOTLIGHT: Lawrence Designs ~ a McLemoresville Tennessee Small Business Story

“Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing.  All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere.”

Small businesses are the backbone of this country and I come from a long line of people who ran their own.  Growing up, my mom had her own “couture” dress shop twice and my father had always worked for himself.    Flash forward to the present and my brother, sister and I all work for ourselves as well.   Small businesses intrigue me, as does the ability to market them on social media.   We can all learn from each other and take inspiration in the stories of the hardworking men and women who run small businesses on a daily basis.   So with that in mind, I wanted to start a spotlight series on specific small businesses and their approach to social media marketing.   But, along the way, I also intend to share the personal stories of hard work and dedication, as well as the path they chose to get to where they are today.

Growing up in small town Tennessee, I naturally know just about everyone even though I no longer live in that small town (again the power of social media).   One small business caught my eye about 2 years ago, Lawrence Designs, owned by Benjie and Nichole Lawrence.  I actually have known Benjie since our moms worked together many, many years ago (too many to count actually).  However, I did not know Benjie’s wife, Nichole.  But, thanks to social media, Nichole and I have connected through Facebook and I have loved watching their story develop over the past couple of years.   A few weeks back, I sat down with Nichole to discuss social media marketing, how the business got started and the lure, of those Tennessee state sparkly pageant crown signs.

Do you have a background in advertising or marketing?
– My background is in state government. My fulltime job is in Community Relations for the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).

How do you manage working a full-time job with running a small business?
– Luckily my husband runs the day-to-day of the business; as a matter of fact he runs all of the business. I merely help him keep up with his orders, run the social media aspect and give ideas on products.

How long have you been in business?
– We have officially been in business for approximately two years. We started this as a hobby for extra money when Benjie was laid off from the railroad.

Whose idea was it to start the business?
– I would say it was Benjie’s idea to get it off the ground officially.

How do you and Benji manage working together?
– Benjie and I have a really good working relationship when it comes to making decisions for Lawrence Designs.  Of course, we don’t always agree, but we always decide and compromise how we want to move forward, whether it’s deciding what type of new product we want to try or if we go to a certain festival.

Did you have a moment when you both just knew the business was taking off?
– That’s tough. Knock on wood, this summer has been a busy summer. When he is busy building and creating that is a plus. We have had several referrals this year, which means our customers are talking about us to others. Word of mouth is such a wonderful thing when it comes to small business life!

Tell me about your hashtag #letsbuildastory
– So, back in the winter of maybe 2015, we attended a lawn and garden show in Memphis because Clint Harp of Fixer Upper was the special guest.  During his speech, one of his suggestions was to have a #hashtag.  Clint’s hashtag is #lovebuildrun and he said, own it, use it on everything, every post, every advertisement, everything! So one day, I just started talking about it and got some input from others. Everyone I asked loved it, I did an initial search on Instagram and didn’t find it associated with any business, so I knew then it was the right fit! We want to build and create a story for families with their furniture. Our furniture we build, and place inside homes, will be used to create memories, eat family meals on, kids do homework or family game night, etc. therefore building a story #letsbuildastory.  The south is all about family and traditions and we felt that just really honed in on our business model.

What caught my attention were the beautiful Tennessee state wood signs with a pageant crown on the…  How did you get involved with the pageant system and how did the wood crown gifts come about?
– So 14 years ago, I became a volunteer with the Miss Tennessee Organization, which is part of the Miss America Organization. I volunteered backstage helping the girls get ready and on the stage.   Then, 5 years ago they asked me to be the chairperson over the backstage, of course I said yes.  I have made such wonderful friends in this organization that I could not say no.   In addition to working backstage, I work in the office during the week helping anyway I can.  The Tennessee state cut outs were our first  products to really make.  We made state cutout with the glitter crown as a gift for Miss Tennessee’s Outstanding Teen one year and from there we decided that would be something we could do every year for the winners, the teens and the Miss Tennessee.  These get a lot of attention, we can make any state and have made 8 or 9 different states other than TN.   We actually shipped ones to Idaho and New York this year.

What are 3 lessons you have learned from marketing a small business?
– 1. Facebook and Instagram are FREE… use it!
– 2. Pictures, set up the area for pictures to showcase your product. (This is a work in progress)
– 3. Post often, don’t let days go by before you post, the more you post the more people see your post!

What 1 tip would you give women who are thinking about starting a small business?
– Have a plan and know your product. You should know what you want to do with it. We do have a bigger picture and would one day we would LOVE to have a storefront, but that will take some planning and a deep breath. 

Is your marketing on Facebook different from marketing on Instagram?
– Not really, I have them linked together, so when I post to our Instagram @lawrencedesigns00,  it automatically posts to our Facebook page – @designslawrence

Does one social media platform work better for connecting with new customers?
– That is a good question, I try to figure out the demographics of those who have Instagram versus Facebook, but there really is no rhyme or reason, which is why I ended up linking the two.

Do you plan out your social media posts ahead of time?
– For the most part, no. If I can and Benjie is working on something new, I try to grab pictures.   I also try to take pictures of the process and will sometimes do a short slide show.   Mostly though, I let the opportunity come to me.

Contact – Benjie Lawrence  (email) to start building your family’s story one piece of furniture at a time.