Social Media Good Samaritan donates tweets to save businesses

By {grow} Community Member Pavel Konoplenko 

The story begins like any sweet story should — with delicious ice cream.

I first visited Ray’s Candy Store, an old-fashioned, hole-in-the-wall family business, when I was strolling around New York’s East Village.  The walls of the store were covered with vintage photos of desserts — like Instagram except in real life! There were also articles and reviews covering the history of this beloved 40-year business.

One article in particular caught my eye. The headline read, “Social media saves beloved East Village candy store.” How could social media, this recent tool of our information age, possibly be used to save the decades-old candy shop? After reading the article on the wall and having a brief chat with the man working the counter, I discovered a wonderful story…. the story of Matt Rosen, the social media Good Samaritan who crafted a social media strategy just because he wanted to save this little store.

ray alvarez

Ray Alvarez

The store’s owner 79-year-old Ray Alvarez, immigrated to America in 1964 and took odd jobs until he worked his way up to become the owner of the store. “It’s my heaven,” Alvarez said in an interview in NYU’s Daily Student Newspaper. “I enjoy every minute of it. I came here from Turkey with no papers in 1964. I worked as a dishwasher, then waiter, then saved enough to buy the store.”

But after 36 years in the same location, increasing rent and taxes threatened to shut the little store down. Word began to spread that Ray was shuttering his business and loyal customers came out in full support of their beloved neighborhood store. Ray said, “They would buy anything and hand me a $20,” Ray said, “and then insist that I keep the change! They kept giving me money.”

But even this benevolence was not enough to keep Ray in business for long.

matt rosen

Matt Rosen

Matt Rosen, a long-time Ray’s customer and Internet-startup consultant, stepped in to help.  It was clear that Ray needed something with massive reach at a low cost, and the social web seemed to be the perfect solution.  So Matt volunteered to manage the pages on Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, and Foursquare that became the hub of an initiative to connect with the thousands of Ray’s customers throughout New York City and beyond.

Through PayPal donations, sales from Ray’s merchandise, and even a benefit concert, Ray was able to raise enough money to keep the store open. In fact, since his foray into social media, Ray has had his best year of business.

Matt was humble when describing his success. “It starts with the business,” he said, “and Ray himself. Without Ray, nothing we did on Facebook or Twitter would have mattered. The call-to-action was really doing something so we wouldn’t lose Ray.”

The goal of the social media effort, Matt said, wasn’t to get a million followers — that wouldn’t pay the bills. It was to keep Ray’s name out there on a regular basis and get somebody who buys one milkshake a month from Ray to buy two or three. Think of the impact on Ray’s bottom line if 200 customers do that.

“This is a simple, relatively painless way to keep Ray’s name out there.” Rosen said. “If my responding to a tweet or thanking someone who checked in on Foursquare brings them back in to the store, then that’s more business for Ray. We know this stuff is working. I can see the metrics.”

Speaking to a local newspaper, Mr. Rosen said he volunteers roughly 15 minutes a day to managing the assorted online accounts for two star clients. At the end of a typical day he searches for mentions on Twitter of Ray’s and responds to them.

In the first month of setting up Foursqure, 130 people had checked in to Ray’s Candy Store through Foursquare. “That’s tremendous,” said Mr. Rosen. “That’s two days-worth of revenue from Foursquare, and it took me just 15 minutes to set up.”

Social media buzz was a huge economic benefit for Ray, but it also brought his dilemma to the attention of a law student who helped him register his papers with Social Security and Medicare. Ray also recently got naturalized recently and is now an American citizen!

And what does Ray, who first saw his first computer a year ago, think about Matt’s efforts?

“Lots of young people are coming now with their iPhones,” he said. “They say, ‘If I do this, I get $1 off, right?’ I say, ‘OK.’” Ray continued, “[Matt] does advertising for me — it’s really high-tech. I still don’t have a television — I don’t know what Twitter is. This is a free country and you can do what you want,” Alvarez said. “How long am I going to keep working here? Until the end!”

­­

Oh yes, follow Ray on Twitter won’t you?

Update: Matt Rosen was at it again. This article describes how he helped New York’s Mosaic Man.

Pavel Konoplenko, one of the most active commenters on {grow}, is passionate about social media and technology and their effect on today’s world. Connect with him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/pavelnovel

Photo of Ray Alvarez Courtesy of The Villager

 

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  • This is one of the most amazing social media success stories i have ever read in my life. I found that if you are true, you have a great product, and you pitch to the right community….they will surely come to help. Similar happened here, i really want appreciate Matt Rosen – who helped Ray in saving his Private Ryan. What we make in all through our life, with what we all have, is the most precious thing and we wont want to loose it. I respect Ray and Matt for inspiring me.

  • radiojaja

    Great story, well told – thanks Pavel, started my day off brilliantly!

  • Now THIS is a cool story! What will be really interesting is if someone could remember to come back to this in a year and see what’s happening.

  • Awesome story. It really shows the power of social media.

  • Great advice! It all starts with the product and the owner, who helps create the right community. From there, you can find the success that you’re looking for – whether it’s involving social media or anything else. Their story inspired me too 🙂

  • Thank you so much Tony! Appreciate the support

  • Thanks a lot Steve! I’m there like every month for their deliciousness, I’ll definitely let everyone know how it goes next year

  • Thanks Julie. If done well with a goal and proper integration, social media can transform and rejuvenate any business. It’s good to witness these stories.

  • What a wonderful story. I lived three blocks away from Ray’s for 20 years and stopped in there almost every day. His egg creams were, and presumably still are, top of the line. He deserves all the good things happening for him. Kudos to Matt Rosen for stepping up to the plate and helping to keep this East Village institution alive. It’s *important*.

  • Hey all-

    Thanks for the shout outs.

    Ray is a doll, and as Mark Frist suggested, he *matters* to the neighborhood.

    Was happy to help.

    For reference, to piece together the timeline, we started really focusing on these efforts for Ray in early 2010. It was December of the previous year when his rent woes became acute.

    The neighborhood rallied to Ray’s side.

    We held three separate benefit concerts over the winter, the last of which Pavel mentioned in the article raised over $3K.

    Around that time, I set up a CafePress shop to sell Ray gear (we also had some shirts printed up to sell in the shop, for impulse buyers), jumpstarted the various social media efforts, and began managing various online properties on his behalf, i.e. Yelp, MenuPages, UrbanSpoon, etc. My logic was, if it came up in search, I wanted to manage it.

    It was all about keeping Ray’s name out there on a regular basis. The huge benefit Ray had was that he already had a huge fan base. So many people in the area knew and loved him. It was more a mater of curating this audience on the various social properties and then communicating with them daily. And then, if all we did was gain, say, three new followers or friends a day, well, in six months time, that’s over 500 new sets of eyes and ears. And it was all primarily local. organic traffic. So, the goal became to just bring the people that were already engaging with him back to his shop more consistently.

    It’s all paid off. Aside from the spike in business, we’ve gotten Ray written up in various papers, he’s been featured in local documentaries, and news specials, locally and nationally (John Stossel featured him in a segment for a FOX News special called “What’s Great About America” a while back!). He’s had a few film and TV productions shot at the store.

    All of these efforts have put Ray on the digital map. In this day and age, it would have been very simple for an older guy like him to have slipped through the digital cracks. There is a lot of local competition, and many are extremely savvy with the social web. At least now, on the surface, and whether he knows it or not, Ray appears to be one of the most plugged-in septuagenarians out there!

    We all love Ray and just want to see him be able to do what he loves for as long as he desires. He turns 80 in January (80!!!), and it’s anyone’s guess what his plans are for the future. His current lease runs through next year. No one would blame him if he opted to give up his overnight shift and hang up his apron. But, that little shop is his world. So, we’ll see!

    As I wrote on Yelp:

    “People often ask “What’s so special about Ray’s Candy Store?”

    I say “Go there and you’ll know.”

    Take a trip back in time to this old school East Village hang serving up the city’s best fries, shakes, frozen yogurt and other delights at Reagan-era prices.

    Ray is an absolute saint. He’s been working the night shift at this 24-hour-a-day haunt that bears his name since before most of us were born. Whether he’s making you the biggest heap of golden fries you’ve ever seen or telling a story about the ‘hood back in the day, you’ll never leave Ray’s unsatisfied.

    Go.

    Now.”

    So, if you’re ever in the East Village, definitely stop by, say hello, and let Ray fix you up some of his famous delicacies!

  • Thanks Matt for haring your time and talent for this small business. A great NY story.

  • Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Couldn’t agree more. It’s great to see people get the good things they deserve, especially when they’re so committed to serving the customers and perfecting their business.

  • Thanks for jumping on here with some more insight. It’s such a great story! I was there a few weeks ago and I always tell people about it. I feel like everyone should go there and enjoy the deliciousness!

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