STEPHEN KOLOKITHAS BEGAN his retail jewelry business in 2015 in his hometown of Chelsea, MI, a city with a small-town appeal (pop. 5,400) about 20 minutes away from Ann Arbor.
In 2020, while seeking a way to communicate in pandemic times, he began addressing prospective clients live online. He also brought along for the ride fellow small-business owners who shared his spirit of adventure by spearheading a cooperative effort to cross-promote their businesses with live video appearances on the Facebook page, facebook.com/chelseamichlive.
“It has translated into direct sales and custom work,” says Kolokithas, owner of Jewelry Set in Stone. “Businesses are seeing people coming in and saying, ‘I saw you on chelseamichlive.’” They’ve also organized monthly live events focused on themes, such as weddings. “We’re doing a good job of referrals between the companies,” he says. “We all ask our customers, ‘Is there anything else you need as you plan your wedding?’”
Kolokithas has taught his peers what he’s learned about how to do live video while doing his best to calm everyone’s stage fright. “The coolest part is we give them the tools,” he says. “At first it was a little bit of a rollercoaster, but nerves are better after a few times.”
Although he has since upgraded, he began very simply with an Ottlite and a laptop with a built-in webcam. Since then, he’s added a second light, a second monitor, a Sony A5100 DSLR camera to improve visual quality, an Elgato cam link to provide clean HDMI display and open broadcast software.
“You really only need a phone or laptop,” he says. “It seems overwhelming at first, but once you realize that it is no different than talking to your customer in person, it’s easy and it only gets easier the more you do it.
“I have little sympathy for businesses that don’t want to embrace change. If you’re not willing to change, how can you reach a demographic that is online?”
Kolokithas also created a Facebook messenger group between the participating businesses so they can communicate more easily and add content whenever they’d like.
Cross-promoting live videos with other businesses has boosted his page views significantly, from a few hundred into the thousands. The page went live beginning in June, with new content offered once a week. Representatives of as many as 13 local businesses, one after the next, present their new inventory and talk about their stores in 15-minute segments. Each business posts to the shared Facebook page and cross-promotes the videos on their own business pages. They’re able to build content on their page as well as on a centralized platform. Kolokithas has at times used his segment to post live casting demonstrations.
He first worked as an apprentice jeweler after graduating from Chelsea High School, then took a side apprenticeship to learn fabrication and repair. He worked for other jewelers and pursued a business administration degree at Eastern Michigan University with a focus on entrepreneurship. Then he went back home. “Chelsea is the place I could see having the most success and where I have friends and family to help me grow,” he says.
At first, he met with custom clients at a coffee shop. But by late 2015, he realized he had appointments booked from the time the coffee shop opened until it closed. So he found a downtown studio location.
Promotion of the Facebook page has been organic. “When you become a member, you go and like the page, and you invite friends and family and customers to your page.”
“Now that the ball is rolling, it’s sort of managing itself. I found my passion, and even if we go back to normal, I have a new component that has enhanced my business.”
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