Practical Ecommerce

Lessons Learned: Dave Anderson of Wildlife Wonders

“Lessons Learned” is a biweekly series where we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences and advice. For this installment, we interviewed Dave Anderson, co-owner of Wildlife Wonders. Anderson and his business partner Brenda Martin run the online business from their brick-and-mortar store in Seminole, FL. Wildlifewonders.com offers more than 5,000 fine gifts and home decor items online, and grosses roughly $1 million in annual revenue. Here we give you Anderson’s experience and advice.

Dave Anderson

Third Party Business Resources

“We used Solid Cactus to design and then redesign our site, and they did an exceptional job. We also have used a couple SEO and PPC companies, but we were dissatisfied, so we do all that ourselves now. There is an awful lot of expertise out there to help businesses establish themselves and grow, but picking the right one is a difficult.”

Shopping Cart Software

“We originally designed our own site using a Yahoo! store template, and we soon realized we were not web design professionals so we hired Solid Cactus to design our website and our shopping cart look.”

“We’re relatively unique in the fact that when customers process an order on our site, their card is not charged at that time. We personally review each order, paying close attention to shipping issues and product availability and then process the order in our store. The customer knows they’re getting personal attention to every order, and when someone asks for expedited shipping when it is not necessary, we can save the customer money in shipping costs.”

Hosting

“We continue to use Yahoo! for hosting. Very seldom have we had problems, and downtime has been minutes rather than hours or days. We have an excellent relationship with our Yahoo! representative, and I look at him as a quasi-business partner.”

Employees

“From mid-September through mid-January, we add at least two full time employees so that we can provide a higher level of customer service. Most of all, a new hire has to understand the importance of customer service and have the personality to provide it.”

“In today’s economy, we stand out because of the personal attention we give to our customers, and I never want to get away from that. If it comes to hiring more people, we’ll do it instead of changing our business paradigm.”

Marketing

“We primarily concern ourselves with SEO, and then Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and MSN search in that order. We sell first quality products. Our prices are reasonable and competitive. We have a low price guarantee that tells our customers that we recognize pricing is an extremely important factor.”

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

“We spend about 10 times as much on PPC as on rent for our retail store per month. We develop our own ads and keywords, and I spend about a day a week on it. It takes constant analysis, change, and willingness to take risks with new keywords, thinking outside the box regarding how products could be marketed. We’ve gone to friends and kids to pick brains for years and years asking, ‘What would you search for if you’re looking for this?’ Google Analytics is a huge help too. It really gives you an opportunity to see what’s happening with your marketing campaign.”

Search Engine Optimization

“SEO is more difficult than PPC because the playing field changes at the whim of the Google techies. I rely on the people who design our site to make sure the site is current relative to SEO. We’re constantly working on analyzing keywords, copy, headlines and links to improve SEO. SEO is difficult to judge if your positioning in search results doesn’t change. And the competition is doing the same thing you’re doing all the time.”

Expense Control

“We have tried to lower some of our fixed expenses such as rent and telephone bills but they remain relatively constant. We negotiated with our landlord and product sources to cut costs. We reduced our marketing budget and tried to concentrate more on SEO because it doesn’t cost anything but time. We paused some non-productive PPC keywords and ad campaigns to try to improve efficiency. We’re still spending a substantial amount of money to generate business — we’re just spending more efficiently and in places that have a history of success.”

Accounting Software

“We use QuickBooks Pro. It’s exceptional, and we couldn’t do our business without it.”

Order Management Software

“We use Stone Edge Technologies. They have an exceptional technical staff that can solve problems very quickly.”

Shipping and Order Fulfillment

“We drop ship and ship from the store. We have found some products do well in our retail store, and some we can buy at a lower cost so we bring the inventory into our store. The split is probably 70 percent to 30 percent in drop shipping versus shipping directly from our store. We use UPS and USPS from store. We offer UPS and FedEx from our drop shippers.”

“We talk at least once a week and sometimes several times a day to many of our vendors. Better communication means a better relationship.”

Credit Card Payments

“We accept all credit cards and PayPal, as well as checks and cash.”

Social Media

“My daughter is in the MBA program at Vanderbilt University and is very involved in marketing. She set up our WordPress, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts for us, but we have not had time yet to put current information into the various sites. We think the next person we hire will be someone who does nothing but handle social networking options.”

Blogs

“We’ve done a couple WordPress blogs, but by no means are we savvy. I need good advice in this arena, but it’s definitely something we’ll be doing this year.”

Customer Service

“Number one priority. We do not think an online business is any different than a retail store. When someone gets on the phone, does a live chat or sends us email, we treat them like they’re face to face with us. The individuals working for us have to have substantial product knowledge, an understanding of customer’s needs and shipping issues.”

General Business Attitude

“I’ve had a lot of different businesses in my life, and the reason our online store still intrigues me after running it for 11 years is that it’s not a static environment. The Internet is changing every week, even every day. We may sell similar products year after year, but the method of marketing and communication with the customer is changing all the time.”

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

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