Like many successful small business owners, Omar Kasim’s story begins with a setback (and perseverance). When Omar graduated from college in 2015, he opened his first restaurant with the help of an outside investor. After more than a year of success, the investor pushed Omar out of his own company. “I was left with nothing, reduced down to a shareholder,” said Omar. Instead of giving up, Omar got going. He traveled to major cities to see what was happening in the food scene. He kept coming across juice bars filled with happy customers. “I was intrigued because I was having a really difficult time finding health-conscious options as a busy individual,” said Omar. He liked the idea of starting a juice business, but he wanted to put his own stamp on it, so he spent a year working on the certified organic process. “I wanted to be fully transparent,” he said. “Our smoothies don’t feature any sugars, sweeteners, or purees — just whole food ingredients.” In January 2018, Omar opened the first Juice Palm location in uptown Fayetteville, Arkansas, followed by a second spot in Bentonville less than a year later.
Juice Palm’s immediate success was spurred, in part, by its digital presence and online marketing tactics. “The competitive landscape has changed — it can’t be done on paper anymore,” said Omar. Juice Palm uses Google My Business to boost visibility on Google Search and Maps and Google Ads to reach users searching for cold-pressed juices or similar items in the area. “Our engagements have significantly increased since we started using Google Ads,” Omar said. Omar and his team also use G Suite tools like Gmail, Docs, and Drive to stay connected. “G Suite is extremely important to us for operational purposes and organization,” said Omar. “It’s nice to have Google Docs and Drive to collaborate in a single space.”
Omar plans to open a third location in Fayetteville, where he will continue using Google tools to reach like-minded college students in need of a healthy fix. “As we start going into new areas, it’s important to rely on Google to know that we’re marketing to the right people,” Omar said. Despite its success, the company is committed to sustainability, using biodegradable supplies and composting more than 1,000 pounds of produce a month. “When I was with my original business, I saw firsthand how much food waste we produced and how much single-use plastic we used,” said Omar. “For Juice Palm, we want to have a sustainable mission and approach to our business.”
Inspiration can strike at any moment. For Lauren Stokes, a registered nurse, it struck while on maternity leave after the birth of her first child. “I was sketching dresses for fun and discovered a real love for designing clothing,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to give up on this passion.” In 2013, Lauren left her job and founded Lauren James, a combination of her and her son’s names. Offering classically-inspired clothing with a modern flair, the business has grown from a small family shop to one of the fastest-growing companies in Arkansas. “We started with t-shirts and dresses. Now we offer everything from activewear to custom-made bridesmaid dresses. All made right here in the U.S.,” Lauren says proudly.
From the first stitch, Lauren James has always used the Internet as their digital runway. Their e-commerce website features stylish photos of hundreds of eye-catching products. They attract fashionable customers from across North America and Europe using AdWords, Google’s advertising program. “AdWords is huge for us. About 90 percent of our digital advertising budget in 2017 went to Google ads,” Lauren explains. “We have a very loyal following, and we use these ads to win a strong conversion rate with them.” The company also uses fun and instructional YouTube videos to showcase their new seasonal lines. “We do videos for all of our launches and sneak peeks,” Lauren says. To keep their online storefront running at peak performance, they turn to Google Analytics as the “one source of truth” for optimizing their online presence and keeping web traffic flowing smoothly through checkout.
With an annual growth rate of 30 percent, Lauren James shows no signs of slowing down. They run two brick-and-mortar locations, serve over 250,000 customers each year, and operate a state-of-the-art inventory warehouse in Fayetteville. For Lauren, however, success is measured in people, not dollars. She works with local teenagers to help them pursue their dreams of entrepreneurship. “We take mentorship very seriously here, because we ourselves have had such amazing mentors,” she shares. To the young entrepreneurs who follow in her footsteps, Lauren reminds them to not be afraid to try. “A lot of time is wasted thinking that your ideas or passions could never work,” she says. “But it can—especially with all of the digital tools and resources that are available today. You just have to be willing to try.”
When she founded Riffraff in 2009 as a senior at the University of Arkansas, Kirsten Blowers shared her unique eye for design with the city she loved. “We're very community-based. We absolutely love Fayetteville,” Kirsten says. Riffraff is a home-grown Arkansas fashion boutique, designed for women by women. Her vision has since blossomed from a tiny pop-up retail space on the edge of town to a wildly successful online storefront operating out of a new 6,000-square-foot facility downtown. “It's lighthearted. It's funny. It's local,” she says proudly.
Riffraff grew into a major player in the retail fashion market thanks to the Internet. “The web lets us get in front of so many more eyes, here in Fayetteville and all over,” Kirsten explains. Riffraff shares favorite looks and products with over 800,000 followers on social media. They use AdWords, Google's advertising program, to attract customers and drive 30 percent of their online sales. “We make sure we’re a top result when people search for Fayetteville or for the best boutiques in the southern United States,” Kirsten says. “We want to be their first pick.” Google Analytics gives them a clear view of their web traffic, so they can adjust their marketing accordingly. Google My Business ensures customers can always find the store's hours and directions, and YouTube provides a creative, digital-friendly way to connect with their growing audience. “Thanks to Google, I don't think anyone in Fayetteville hasn't heard of Riffraff,” Kirsten remarks.
Today, Riffraff ships their products to customers all over the globe, and their sister company, Charlie Southern, wholesales to over 500 boutiques across America. Amidst their growing reach and influence, they remain true to their roots of supporting the local economy. They use printers in Fayetteville to manufacture their t-shirts, and all of their employees are female and under 30. “When you support a local business, you're supporting the town and everyone in it,” Kirsten says. “We try our best to stay local, present local, and sell local.” With impressive growth and plans to expand, Riffraff will keep on sharing its hometown with the world.
Rock City Outfitters
Rock City Outfitters has 4,500 online customers
Arkansas Tech graduates Ryan Ritchie and Matt Jones have been making humorous t-shirts to display their state and team pride for years. "We were just a couple guys printing shirts at home for fun," Ryan says. "Then we realized people would actually pay money for them." Rock City Outfitters originally just marketed their products at festivals and local events, but the business really took off once they launched a website. "People from all over the state wanted our shirts," he says. "Once Rock City Outfitters went online, we really broadened our reach."
Google Analytics helps the entrepreneurs keep a beat on where website visitors are coming from and which shirts are most popular. "Before Google Analytics, we were just throwing whatever up there and seeing what sticks,” explains Ryan. “Now we can see where we're getting business and where we should be designing more t-shirts.” For example, they learned that, surprisingly, 25% of their e-commerce traffic was coming from Texas, “a whole other market we need to explore." Google Analytics also helps them fine-tune their social media marketing strategy, so they know which campaigns are most effective. "Social media lets us interact with our customers and fans. Some of our best t-shirt ideas come from them." Google Apps for Work, including Gmail and Google Calendar, makes it easy to communicate with employees and helps the business run smoothly.
Rock City Outfitters’ online presence grew the business far beyond its small-town base. “If it wasn’t for Google, we’d still be poking around at little festivals. It’s helped us nearly double our sales every year.” The company now employs two full-time and six part-time staffers. They operate a custom-orders department and provide officially licensed collegiate apparel from Arkansas universities and other schools. And Ryan expects business to continue booming. "We're still getting our heads around Arkansas, but we hope to go national," he says. "Thanks to Google, our website, and our social media—the sky's the limit."