Practical Ecommerce

High Performer Series: Organize.com

Organize.com began in 1998 in Riverside, Calif., as Organize Everything — one convenient place to shop for storage and organization solutions. For those who have a garage or closet in need of some serious organizational help, Organize.com features a full slate of organizational products, shelving, boxes, bins, hangers and storage systems.

About a year after its beginning, the company launched a website. That channel propelled sales to about $10 million annually, 92.5 percent of which is generated through online channels.

Kevin Watts is director of ecommerce for the company.

PeC: What challenges did you experience as you launched your first site?

Kevin WattsWatts: We launched about 200 products to begin with. When we first started putting products on there, we weren’t sure how we were going to create a story for somebody who couldn’t touch and feel the product. They couldn’t fully see how it looked or understand how it was going to work for them. So, what we did was offer really good descriptions. We offered really clear pictures and included the size and dimensions of all of our products. We tried to give a good enough story to the customers to explain to them how the product worked and why they needed it.

PeC: How challenging is it to bridge that touch-and-feel barrier?

Watts: We had to start with what we had. We had vendor images. We had vendor copy and features. But what we did — and what I feel is really important — was to invest in good copywriters. We have employees whose only job is to write about the product. They tell the story of the products and touch [customers’] emotions and senses about how our products will save them more time in their day to free up what otherwise might be a chaotic lifestyle.

PeC: Do you sell products through online outlets other than your own site?

Watts: One of our challenges was how to provide data feeds for all the different shopping comparison engines, and so we entered into a partnership with Mercent. What they do is take our price data feeds and submit them to {Shopping.com](http://www.shopping.com), Shop.com, Shopzilla, BizRate, PriceGrabber, etc. For us, that’s a lot easier than trying to manage the feeds for each of those. Besides the standard shopping comparison sites, we also have a partnership with Amazon.com. We are in their merchant marketplace. We are also in a partnership with Cooking.com where we sell storage and organization products through its site.

PeC: Has the company’s operational focus shifted everything toward the online sales channels since it accounts for so much of your revenue?

Watts: We run everything right now out of our warehouse, as opposed to what we used to do — which was to run everything out of our retail store. We shifted all our offices to a 42,000-square-foot warehouse in Riverside, about eight miles from our retail store. In the retail store, we stock about 70 percent of the products we sell online. That is true with our online business as well. We are stocking 70 percent right here in Riverside and then drop shipping about 30 percent. The online portion of our business has truly taken over. We are now supplying our brick-and-mortar store through our Internet warehouse.

PeC: Is there some order management software used to integrate the inventory management for the online and brick-and-mortar operations?

Watts: Yes, we operate off of the same database right now. We are in the process of improving that. It works well. There is a lot of manual work that is involved each morning to update the database, which is something we hope to streamline better in the coming months.

PeC: You use a Yahoo! Store. How did you decide to use Yahoo!?

Watts: We actually launched on an open-source platform when we deployed our first site. We went to Yahoo! Around 2000 because it was a much easier interface for us. We did not start off as ecommerce gurus. We did not know all the little tricks and techniques. We did not have a technology savvy staff, and we were operating on a very tight budget. We realized that by going to Yahoo!, we could launch a site that would look professional, with little to no knowledge about ecommerce websites — how to build them and how to manage them. [Now], we have outgrown the Yahoo! platform, and we’re about to launch a new site on a different platform.

PeC: Is your new site a hosted solution or a licensed product?

Watts: We are customizing a product for our particular needs — all open source again.

PeC: Did you build your site-search and merchandising functions as well?

Watts: We are using Mercado’s product for all of our internal site search and site-search merchandising. We are very happy with our success with Mercado over the last year.

PeC: Are there particular items that you can say have had a direct impact on your improved conversions?

Watts: With Mercado, we actually started cross-selling, up-selling, operating different bestsellers and the top rated items in the search results, which has helped tremendously with showing customers a broader range of product offerings. Through working with Mercado, we have been able to improve on [those techniques] and that has had a direct impact on our increased conversion over the last year.

PeC: How do you market your online store?

Watts: In 2004, we partnered with Sagerock, and we have been very successful with them in optimizing pages on our site and increasing natural search results. For us, it has been a significant strategy to improve natural results. That is paying off tremendously. We are not as involved in email marketing as we would like to be, but that is one of the efforts we are going to focus on more in 2007. It is something that we have not capitalized on as of yet.

PeC: How does the operation locate products?

Watts: We do not do any manufacturing. Most of our products, we pick up from various vendors. We have about 230 to 240 vendors located within the United States. They manufacture custom products for us, but we find most of our products by attending various trade shows throughout the year

PeC: How does Organize.com distinguish itself from from the Wal-marts and Targets of the world?

Watts: By serving our customers better than our competitors service their customers. We have an internal customer service department. All our customer service representatives know exactly what each product does and how the product works. If they do not know, then they go and they figure it out. We keep all our customer service in-house for that reason.

Our CSRs are like a sales associate on the floor of our brick-and-mortar store. They are the first people the customers rely on when they have a question — not just necessarily an order question, but what a product can do for them to help them out.

That is how we survive big box competitors. We offer a higher level of customer service, a higher level of customer experience. And we follow up on those experiences to improve selections and service to our customers.

PeC: What advice would you have for a person building a niche ecommerce business?

Watts: Well, it is really about studying your industry: knowing what you want to do and realizing what the competition is. The best advice I can give is: Know what your customers’ expectations are and, from a small business point of view, build your site as if they were shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. Hold your customers hand and take them down the aisles and show them how the product works. We realize as a specialty retailer, our business is customer service and customer experience. I notice a lot of companies that are out of touch with what their customers really want to see online. My biggest challenge is always to improve that customer experience and help them find exactly what they are looking for.

What is a high performer?

Five sites have built dynamic businesses in unique niches

Some people may define that purely based on gross revenue numbers or by having a 30 percent pretax profit margin. Others might say a high performer is a company that dominates its market sector or boasts a double-digit conversion rate.

We are all familiar with the success of Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon and other sentinels of online commerce. However, rather than focus on the handful of ebusinesses you might read about in The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis, we felt it was important to showcase online businesses we see doing a terrific job in highly-targeted niche markets.

The five businesses we are showcasing will not be considered among the 10 highest-grossing revenue sites on the web. However, each of these has built a successful business. What one thing do they each have in common? The owners built their businesses around a passion. As you’ll see, those passions run the spectrum of diversity — they include bow ties, appliance parts, horse tack, organizational products and pet supplies.

Each of these sites generates millions of dollars — from $2 million to $125 million in gross revenues — and has stood the test of time by operating for the better part of a decade.

These high-performing sites have proven that online success isn’t reserved for businesses in Silicon Valley. From small-town Vermont to Southern California to rural Massachusetts to the woodlands of Northern Wisconsin, our five high performers show that success has no boundaries.

If there are central themes to each message from the featured businesses, they are: Success generally comes to people who love the products they sell; be the expert in your niche and, above all, take customer service very seriously.

The five sites we will showcase include: Drsfosterandsmith.com, Organize.com, Appliancepartspros.com, Doversaddlery.com and Beautiesltd.com.

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Legacy User September 11, 2007 Reply

    I've had my store, Celestial Creations–showcasing only items created in New Mexico–open for a year now. I'm just now building my online store. These featured articles are a great help. Thanks! http://www.celestial-creations-nm.com
    PS Has anyone used the Go Daddy's fastshoppingcart store?

    — *Celeste Rich*