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TikTok: Turning Followers Into Customers

There’s serious business to be had on TikTok.

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KEEPING UP WITH the latest social media trends can be a daunting task. Just as you’ve become comfortable with one app, it updates, or a new app takes over. Enter TikTok. The mere sound of the app’s name can be discouraging to anyone over the age of 21, let alone a seasoned small business owner. For some, TikTok is considered the Generation Z app for dancing and lip syncing. You may think you have no reason to post on social media’s shiniest new toy, but that’s simply not the case. There’s serious business to be had on TikTok.

Alex Trinkle is the owner and creative force behind two Kansas City, Kansas-based screen printing businesses, Stellar Screen Printing (stellarscreenprinting.com) and Clever Fools (cleverfools.com), a streetwear brand. He started a TikTok account for Clever Fools in October of 2019, just to try his hand at creating content and check out what the app had to offer. A little over a year later, he has more than 134,000 followers and has amassed more than 2.1 million likes on his videos.

@cleverfoolsYou can do this. Be patient:) #streetwear #screenprinting #kc #kansascity #fyp #diy #clothes #sewing #clothingbrand #tyedye #tshirts #printshop #print♬ original sound – cleverfools

@cleverfoolsUBER OFFICIAL💥💥 #streetwear #hemtags #fyp #kansascity #diy #customclothes #clothingbrand #custom #tshirts #screenprinting #sewing #sewingtutorial

♬ original sound – cleverfools

@cleverfoolsQuick explanation on how merch is made #streetwearculture #streetwearbrand #streetwear #clothing #screenprinting #fyp #hypebeast #graffiti #clothes

♬ original sound – cleverfools

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“When I first started my TikTok, I was just trying to have fun,” says Trinkle. “I had recently moved out of my parents’ house where I was printing in the basement. I got a studio downtown — a little 700 square-foot spot — and I just decided to show TikTok what I was doing. People were just so into it because they don’t know the process of making a shirt. There’s so much more to it than people think. Most just think everything is DTG or whatever, but no, you have to show them the process.”

Before Trinkle even had the chance to display his screen printing process to the TikTok world, he first had to learn it for himself.

“I started Clever Fools, and then I worked at a screen printing shop for like eight months. I’m just the type of person who picks stuff up quickly, and I realized that I really want to do this,” he says. “Then, I realized there’s a lot of money in screen printing if you can find your own clients and do it on your own. I just started gaining clients. I got one solid client who would return every single week and that’s what got me started. From there I began working with vendors, and I’ve just been growing ever since.”

TikTok has been a substantial part of that growth. One of his most popular videos was published on August 24, 2020. It’s titled, “Clothing Brand Motivation!” and has almost 200,000 views. In the video, Trinkle explains how he started his brand, Clever Fools, by doing heat transfers. He goes step by step through the upgrades he made to his shop, all from saving his money from merchandise sales and reinvesting it into equipment upgrades for his company. The video has more than 260 comments from interested entrepreneurs and other TikTok users who found the story inspiring.

One popular video, where Trinkle shows viewers how to add hem tags to their shirts, has nearly 850,000 views and more than 65,000 likes. Another video, with 360,000 views, walks the viewer through every step of making a shirt, from the graphic design in Photoshop, to placing the screen in the exposure unit, to the washout booth, to the ink application, and finally to the conveyer dryer. It’s important to note that TikTok has a 60-second time limit on its videos. Trinkle explained this whole process in less than a minute. The top comment on the video is “This single video covered everything I learned from three years of college-level screen printing courses.”

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“The videos hit one million-plus views every once and a while. This is the first platform I’ve really seen a lot of growth with. The instructional videos I do, it seems like everybody just eats them up and enjoys them,” says Trinkle. “There are a lot of beginners on the platform, a lot of DIY people who are starting with Speedball Kits and all kinds of cheap equipment. I show them little tips and tricks on how to make their prints better.”

Trinkle provides valuable information to his audience, and they reciprocate by purchasing his merchandise and supporting his business. If you’re wondering if TikTok growth leads to business growth, the short answer is yes. “I recently made a video for a promo of 50 T-shirts for 250 bucks. The amount of people who hit me up who need shirts, I never expected it,” he says. “I made 20 new clients in three days off of a T-shirt deal I posted on TikTok.”

Trinkle’s TikTok audience not only appreciates the information he shares, but they feel like they’re along for the journey with him. His accomplishments serve as inspiration for their own entrepreneurial hopes. They’ve watched him grow, from using heat presses, to Vastex V-1000 manual presses, to just recently upgrading to an M&R Sidewinder manual screen printing press. They get the sense that it won’t stop here.

If you want your customers to feel like your fans, TikTok can take you there. Download the app and follow Trinkle @CleverFools.

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