A selection of Tally Hockey Jerseys products. Courtesy of the company

Like many small businesses, the COVID pandemic left my company facing closure. After a year of grappling with unpredictable restrictions, when I learned of the state’s June 15 reopening plan, I thought I saw light at the end of the tunnel. However, there was an oncoming train — the Delta variant.

Instead of joining the almost 29% of California small businesses that closed their doors in COVID’s wake, I managed to rescue my business by turning to the latest digital marketing tools. To help other business owners pull off similar turnarounds, I’m sharing my story of digital transformation.

My company, Tally Hockey Jerseys, outfits amateur hockey teams with customized gear. I started Tally in 2007 as a side business while working in the tech industry. Like most people pursuing a dream, I focused on creating a great product that reflected my personal passion. I knew nothing about marketing. I counted on the product to sell itself.

In Tally’s early years, I found customers the old-fashioned way. In city after city, I contacted recreational “beer leagues” and offered teams a fast, fun way to design their own embroidered crests and choose jerseys from a range of classic styles. Teams loved my “customize today, ship tomorrow” model, and sales grew steadily.

Just as my dream was coming true, disaster struck. The pandemic arrived, and sports, along with what seemed like everything else, was shut down. To survive, I knew I had to reach that subset of customers still planning for future seasons, who were keeping the flame alive. But I had no easy way to identify and target them.

I’d always operated Tally as a hybrid of in-store sales and e-commerce. Early on, I launched Tally’s online presence with an ordinary, static website. But constantly updating the product photos turned out to be clumsy and laborious.

As the next step, I tried e-commerce platforms like eBay and Etsy, but they introduced new challenges such as relying on customers to find you. After the pandemic hit, we needed to get proactive and draw customers to us.

With our sales evaporating and customer engagement plummeting, we desperately needed a game-changer. After I noticed that social media was driving most of our incoming traffic, I decided to learn about social media shopping tools. What attracted me at first was their simplicity. I could manage sales and shipping from one e-commerce site, rather than operating multiple storefronts.

Sales immediately picked up. The digital business tools I was using quickly became our lifeline. And very soon, we went far beyond just surviving. As of today, our online sales via social media have already exceeded our eBay and Etsy numbers from before the pandemic. By the end of 2021, we foresee our Facebook sales channel tripling in size by building a whole new customer base for our products. Using these same tools, we’ll soon start expanding internationally.

Like many business owners new to digital marketing, I worried at first about creating content affordably. Then I learned to rely on customers. If your customers appreciate your product, they’ll happily help you promote it. At Tally, we ask teams to post photos of players wearing our jerseys at fun moments, like scoring a goal, winning a trophy, or celebrating after a game. We link this eye-catching content directly to our social media shops, where customers can customize and order Tally’s products.

Our social media content strategy benefits customers, too. Players get to express their passion for hockey and show off the uniforms they created. In return, we generate buzz around our products that keeps our community excited and attracts new customers.

Although the COVID crisis threatens many businesses with an onslaught of challenges, it also points to opportunities for innovation and growth. My team and I hope that “beer league” hockey will return in full force soon. In the meantime, we’ll keep growing sales using the lessons we learned during the pandemic — and we hope others take note of our lessons as well.

Thanks to the latest digital tools, whether our customers are admiring a custom crest on social media or relishing a post-game celebration on Instagram, they’re just one click away from the purchase page of Tally Hockey Jerseys.

Dave Dykes is the owner of Tally Hockey Jerseys in Del Mar.

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