Small businesses take Periscope for a test drive. Here’s what they learned.

ShopTalk video: Small-business owners on Periscope

Charlotte-area small-business owners experiment with the live-streaming app Periscope to promote their companies. Video by Celeste Smith
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Charlotte-area small-business owners experiment with the live-streaming app Periscope to promote their companies. Video by Celeste Smith

Haven’t heard of Periscope yet? Chances are, you will.

Twitter’s live video-streaming app, which debuted in March, turns anyone using a mobile device into an instant broadcaster. Like Meerkat, another free live-streaming app, users can develop their own fan base of followers tuning into their broadcasts.

And that can have huge implications for small companies looking to promote themselves on the cheap in front of large audiences.

Charlotte high-end clothier William Wilson has used Periscope steadily for more than two months, broadcasting with clients from events and from his store, William Wilson Clothing, in uptown Charlotte. He chats casually into the camera on a range of fashion topics, from explainers on shoe trees, to picking the right timepieces for the right occasion.

“Anything that can get you in front of your current customer, a potential customer, I’m all over it,” says Wilson, whose clients include business leaders and celebrities in sports and entertainment.

He says social platforms such as Periscope can translate into big bucks by allowing customers to get to know him.

“I made $100,000 last year just off of people I met on Twitter” and other social media, Wilson says.

ShopTalk asked local entrepreneurs who hadn’t used Periscope to give it a test drive and tell us how they could use it to promote their ventures in food, fashion, retail and tech. Here’s what they learned:

The Boulevard at South End: Owner Jennifer Branham narrated a tour of her accessories boutique, paying special attention to the T-shirts, necklaces and other items made by Charlotte vendors. Her biggest takeaway: Pan slowly to best showcase items, and limit broadcasts to about two minutes to keep viewers’ attention. She plans to keep using Periscope, with once-a-week broadcasts on new items.

“It’s a much faster way for people to see what’s in the store instead of us taking 50 pictures” and posting, Branham says.

Happzee event app: Zerrick Bynum used storytelling on-location to showcase his Happzee website and app, a personalized around-town events calendar. “Ultimately it’s about experiences, and enabling people to participate in experiences,” Bynum says.

He broadcast from a swim practice with the Queen City Dolphins, while narrating that youth sports team organizers can use the Happzee app to communicate with parents and members about practices and schedule changes. While doing video at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, an online commenter joked he should “jump into the water.”

“There’s so much authenticity with it,” Bynum said. “That’s what makes it extremely rich.”

Beadlush: Bead shop owner Lydia Stern broadcast from her monthly craft social held at nearby art gallery twenty-two in Plaza Midwood.

As gallery visitors sipped wine and watched, Stern captured a moment when shop manager Vanessa Ross used a hand-held dryer to melt and twist plastic into a North Carolina-shaped necklace charm.

“I think it’s great for events … so people can see what it is that we do,” says Stern, who now plans to Periscope snippets from her shop’s jewelry classes, too.

Abbeydale: David Watkins, who creates his Abbeydale menswear clothing line from his uptown store of the same name, broadcast outside his business with fitter/stylist Theo Mercado. Watkins explained what he was wearing – an ivory-pinstripe-on-blue linen suit, shoes and tie, all from his private label.

Periscope is a chance to show his line and the personality of the business, Watkins said. Possible next steps: broadcasting a tutorial on how customers can use the store website to to design a custom shoe.

Slip-On Dancers: Charlotte entrepreneur Katie Hughes makes and sells Slip-On Dancers, stretchy elastic bands that slide over a variety of footwear to turn them into dancing shoes. Raquel Mancia, Hughes’ assistant who handles social media, broadcast an 11-second standup pointing viewers to web and Facebook sites for a holiday promotion. “It’s a great tool,” Mancia said. “People don’t always get to see the face working behind social media.”

Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina in Monroe: Fresh vegetables and employees’ chopping talents took center stage in owner Casey Holzman’s broadcast.

“We had fun with it,” says Holzman. “It’s always a little bit of pride in terms of how fast you can chop tomatoes.

“… As an owner, I want to see happy people making food. You get better food.”

He says Periscope could be perfect for certain promotions -- such as showcasing people biting into the “World’s Hottest Burrito,” a special menu item last year.

Lore Emelio Design Studio: Fashion designer Lore Emelio got a kick out of drawing 37 viewers for a broadcast entitled “Marker step by step,” an instructional video on fashion illustration.

In “Versatile Veil,” Emelio demo’d different ways to wear a wedding veil.

Emelio says Periscope is now a permanent part of her social media toolbox: “It’s right up our alley … just fast and easy.”

She’s saving her videos and plans to post them with the online class descriptions of her fashion and design camps.

barCHOCOLATE: In a conversational tone, confectionary co-owners Lin McKay and Mike Shafer talked about their business and introduced some of their current bon-bons. They also touted nine other local businesses, including clients, places where they source their ingredients, and locations where their treats are sold.

Periscope “is so much easier to do than to actually produce a video yourself,” McKay said. “And we prefer live anyway.”

Observer online producer April Bethea contributed.

Today: Charlotte business owners live on Periscope

Follow these local entrepreneurs on Twitter to get a link to the livestream at these times:

10 a.m.: Jennifer Branham from The Boulevard at South End: @BLVDatSE

11 a.m.: William Wilson from William Wilson Clothing: @TheClothier

3p.m.: Lin McKay and Mike Shafer of barCHOCOLATE: @barCHOCOLATEinc

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