“Lessons Learned” is a series where we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences and advice. For this installment, we interviewed Jamee Simons, co-owner of Enstrom Candies Inc., a Colorado-based candy company. The family-owned business produces Enstrom’s World Famous Almond Toffee and dozens of other hand-made confections.
Simons’ grandfather opened the first Enstrom Candies shop in 1960 in Grand Junction, Colo. In 1979, Jamee and her husband Doug began working for the company, and the couple eventually bought the business in 1993.
Today, Enstrom Candies has six physical stores across Colorado, and a successful online store. The company’s annual revenue is roughly $13 million, with online sales making up 30 percent of the total.
Simons offers the benefit of her experience in ecommerce below.
Shopping Cart Software, Web Hosting
“We’ve always hosted our own website. We started our online sales around 20 years ago before there was such a thing as a shopping cart. Customers would send an email to place an order. Later, we designed our own ecommerce platform with a software company that specialized in mail order food.
“Eventually, we outgrew that, and now we use an ecommerce software by Escalate Retail called Ecometry Commerce Suite. We just launched a new site design, and Escalate integrates well with our entire system.”
Credit Card Payments and PCI Compliance
“We’ve always used Chase Paymentech as long as I can remember. We don’t offer Google Checkout, PayPal or any other payment systems. Paymentech has done very well for us and so we have just stayed with them.
“We are very careful with all the information we carry in the office and careful with screening all the employees who work in the office. Of course, with the back-end software through Escalate, the customer data is secure and PCI-compliant.”
“We use Escalate for order-fulfillment and the back-end of our website. We also use their software for our POS [point of sale] systems in our stores as well as for inventory control.”
“Only our IT director works directly online. We have 118 full-time employees, and that increases to more than 200 employees during November and December. It can be a challenge to find the quality help we need.
“A few years ago, when our area had a low unemployment rate, it was hard to find 100-175 temps for high season for our own phone bank. So, about three years ago, we farmed it out to a phone bank in Kansas City. They take online, phone and mail orders.
“Our employees are very important part of our business, and so we try to pay well and we offer some fun benefits–we give turkeys at Thanksgiving, and when we are really busy during the holidays we bring in catered meals–we just try to make it fun and let our employees know how much we appreciate them. Our motto is to be a good community employer.”
Search Engine Optimization and Social Media
“For the 2008 season, we tried outsourcing our SEO and social networking. We hired a firm in Boulder, Colo. to help us (and spent way too much money, I might add). We were on Facebook, Twitter and BzzAgent Frogpond where we gave away 100 boxes of toffee. We did blogger outreach, article marketing and optimized press releases. In the end, we didn’t find that it grew our online sales nearly enough to offset the money spent.”
“Now, our IT director does our SEO in-house. He is always working on the content he puts on the website. We try to use very descriptive and related words for our products in the short and long descriptions. We also manage meta tags for each page on the main, sub-category and item levels. We also keep up with new recommendations to help optimize the site for optimum searchability to make every word count. We actively monitor our results on Google, Yahoo! and Bing, and tweak as necessary to achieve the highest organic results.”
“We use pay-per-click campaigns to get the highest impression for keywords that we have deemed target-worthy. We have a PPC program with Google and a very small amount with Yahoo!. We recently decreased our contract because, with our new web design, the organic searches have increased by over 35 percent, so we are coming up at the top anyway.”
“We send out about 700,000 pounds of candy yearly. In high season we have shipped up to 30,000 packages in one day including online, mail orders and telephone orders. We do our shipping in-house and we partner with FedEx.
“Actually, our chocolate ships beautifully, and we don’t have to have it refrigerated or frozen. My grandfather shipped toffee back in the 60s through the Post Office when it took a week to ten days to be delivered.
“Then UPS came along. You didn’t have to pay extra for insurance as you did with the Post Office. But, about four years ago, they made us move the personal greeting on the outside of our package. Then they covered up our greeting with their routing sticker. We had to put people on full-time to look up orders just to figure out who the candy came from, and UPS just wouldn’t help us with the problem. It went on through the whole season.
And then FedEx came along with a very competitive shipping rate and so we switched. FedEx integrates with Escalate, and they have just been a great partner.
“For a while, we shipped FedEx at the three-day rate because it was the most economical. Now we’re back to ground because that is the most economical. Our candy is expensive to ship, so we really try to keep it as economical as we can for our customers. Shipping is not a profit center for us.”
“We use Taurus, which is a data base manager and an information mining software for inventory control. It integrates well with the Escalate retail software.”
“Escalate has its own accounting package that works with SYSPRO, an accounting software. SYSPRO is a manufacturing package that has all kinds of modules–accounting software, inventory control software–you can pick and choose the modules you want to use, and have it all automatically working together.”
“We feel that customer service is as important as the quality of the product we produce. We pride ourselves on excellent customer service. Our product is unconditionally guaranteed. If we make a mistake with a customer’s order we allow our customer service staff to do whatever it takes to make it right.”
“We actually made too many one-pound boxes of toffee one year, and we offered a buy-one-get-one and it was huge. But, now everybody is waiting for the BOGO again. They want us to do it every year.”
“We’ve done some email promotions that have been very successful. For instance, as we get close to the end of the season, we usually offer a shipping upgrade from ground to two- or three-day shipping at no additional charge just to get much candy out as we can.”
“Our company philosophy is pretty simple: We want to make the best possible product at a fair price, offer customer service second-to-none, and be a good community employer. We try to follow the example of my grandfather Chet [the company’s founder], that we are just making a little candy for a few of our friends.”