Practical Ecommerce

Lessons Learned: Wetsuitwearhouse.com's Moleskie

“Lessons Learned” is an occasional series where we ask seasoned ecommerce professionals about their mistakes and successes. For this installment, we’ve asked Chris Moleskie, owner and president of Wetsuit Wearhouse, Inc., a Hagerstown, Md.-based online retailer of wetsuits and accessories. It was launched in 2003, with Moleskie as its only employee. It now has three employees, but varies seasonally, with annual revenue of over $1 million. It offers over 300 unique products. Here we give you Moleskie’s experiences and suggestions.

Kevin Moleskie

On general advice for ecommerce merchants

“It is tough to tell this to new merchants who are very budget conscious, but you get what you pay for. Most of our early mistakes could have been avoided by not going cheap.”

On shopping cart mistakes

“We have always used Miva Merchant. It has been excellent for us, since anything is possible with regards to customization. One mistake was hosting with the cheapest provider who lacked top-notch tech support. Another mistake was hiring our first web developer who was not a Miva expert.”

On hosting issues

“Since we are web-only, hosting is a critical component of our operations. We switched early on from a cheapie host that lacked tech support to DotCom Host in San Diego. These guys answer the phones day and night and assist with everything from ‘how do I’ questions to site performance issues.”

On marketing strategies

“We have tried to advertise in action sports magazines a number of times without ever seeing a payoff. Pay-per-click advertising was critical to our initial success, but we made the mistake of managing it ourselves. Hiring a PPC management firm has paid off. It took me a while to realize it, but in some cases it is better for me to stick to the wetsuits and let the professionals work their magic on other aspects of the business.”

On search engine optimization

“Our first site was basic. None of us knew a thing about SEO, so we were at the bottom of the search engine barrel. Hiring a professional SEO firm to get us on track was one of the best investments ever made. Type ‘wetsuit’ into Google; you can’t argue with what these guys have done for our business.”

On expense control

“When the business started I was the only employee, so net profits equaled my salary. This made me very cautious of any expenses and that thought process has carried forward through the years. My advice to other merchants would be to negotiate, and negotiate hard. We didn’t get many breaks from vendors when first starting out, but as the business grew I re-negotiated rates and contracts.”

On order management and back-end automation

“We used QuickBooks for the first three years to manage inventory, orders, history and accounting. QuickBooks worked fine for us, but everything was manual and slow. Every single order had to be re-keyed from Miva into QuickBooks. We switched over to Stone Edge Order Manager one and a half years ago and have never looked back. We are now on cruise control when it comes to order processing and inventory management.”

On shipping and fulfillment

“We have used FedEx Ground and Express since day one and are very pleased. Our biggest mistake was using FedEx Ground to ship to Canada. If the recipient refuses to pay import taxes, it gets charged to our account. A success was adding the U.S. Postal Service into our shipping system. The flat rate box and envelope program is a very economical and efficient shipping method that finally got us to the break-even point with shipping.”

On staying organized

“Organization has been key to my success, and I have many organizational tools to thank for that. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Blackberry, Google Floating Task List, MS Outlook, Dual Monitors and my reading glasses.”

On general business attitude

“I love it! It has been exciting watching the business grow over the past five years. I don’t have as much time to spend out on the water, but life is full of trade-offs.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    Working for an SEO/SEM agency it is nice to see someone call out how much support an outside agency can bring. Currently there are many clients who we work with on Natural and Paid search, but the future is going to be Conversion Consulting. Because search traffic will not continue growing at the same rate, converting the visitors you already get will become extremely important. Improving your site conversion from 1.25% to 1.50% can result in thousands to hundred of thousands of dollars a year.

    — *NateAgencySide*

  2. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    Great suggestions. Care to elaborate on how much these services cost and the ROI on them? SEO/SEM and PPC Marketing can be handled by professionals but the waters are so muddy these days its hard to tell if they're more dedicated than you are and actually doing a good job or not ;)

    — *Byron Miller*

  3. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    We hired consultants to expand our keywords lists for http://www.CyberCucina.com and found out through hard experience they didn't have a clue (or didn't care) about how appropriate it was to bid certain keywords. We found many keywords being bid for things we didn't sell; I assume they were added because they were semantically related. Also, note compensation can be a percentage of ad spend, so they are motivated to see you spend a lot, but don't care about your bottom line.

    Our lesson learned was to maintain our own keyword lists and couple our PPC program with our site search vendor http://www.CyberSiteSearch.com to boost conversion rates on our campaigns. So far, we're getting good results.

    — *John Schoeph*

  4. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    One of the biggest obstacles for those starting out is finances/funding . . . . When starting out, where does one get the funding for hiring a quality web designer – be it a MIVA expert or otherwise?

    — *TomC*

  5. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    I know that it is after the fact but did you realize that Miva can synch with QuickBooks?? (But not QuickBooks Enterprise – the next step up in the QB line up.)

    Our site is Miva (provided by our host company) and it is pretty awesome (albeit a bit quirky once you start adding modules etc). If your web developer was half way decent he could have become a Miva expert fairly quickly. We have been able to do our entire site (including the non-e commerce sections) in Miva and I (who programmed and maintain the site) was fairly new to web site development PERIOD. I am now a Miva goddess!

    Best of luck!

    — *Beth*

  6. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    One think to keep in mind is you have to know where your "coversions" are coming from and not just your traffic. We experience great traffic at http://www.envirosafetyproducts.com and we attributed it our PPC, however these were mainly page jumpers. We turned off about our monthly PPC spend of $8k per month without any noticable drop in sales.

    — *Scott Newton*

  7. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    Great advice on letting professionals handle SEO/SEM and PPC Marketing. Any chance you can let us know who these firms are who have done such a good job of helping grow your company?

    — *AlenF*

  8. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    Great article. Regarding cheap website design: We've been tendering work through elance.com with great success. Just write up a spec and post it, and you'll get a number of bids from qualified designers. We've found the prices very affordable thus far. We're about to redo http://www.lumetro.com through elance so check back soon.

    — *Will*

  9. Legacy User May 29, 2008 Reply

    Also try odesk.com . You can hire international designers for $10/hr or less. I had my entire site redesigned for about $500. That is compared to a new logo for our store with a domestic design firm for $3,500 . My Pakistani graphic designer did a logo for a new website with 6 great options to choose from. That time it cost me $30.00 .

    — *Jason*