Practical Ecommerce

Online Start-up Faces SEO Challenge

MOTIF Modern Living operates a unique contemporary furniture outlet just 10 minutes south of downtown Austin, Texas. The loft-like brick-and-mortar store features beautifully designed contemporary home furnishings. To expand its reach beyond Texas’ borders, MOTIF has launched a website that tries to replicate the distinctive feel you get when walking into its Texas-sized showroom.

Steven Lora

The brick-and-mortar store is strategically located along I-35 near the community of Kyle. Automobile traffic isn’t a problem — more than 80,000 vehicles pass by the store every day. However, getting quality web traffic and sales at the ecommerce store takes some marketing moxie.

The brick-and-mortar store had a successful first year of operation by more than doubling the projections President Steven Lora made. Lora’s focus in 2007: Capturing the momentum from the local store’s success to help propel the company’s website into a force online.

Profile

Company Name: MOTIF Modern Living

Owner: Steven Lora and John Perez

Established: Company 2005; Motifmod.com launched 2006

Revenue: About $3 million online and offline

Products: Contemporary home furnishings

Shopping Cart: NetSuite

Quote: “We think of MOTIF as a lifestyle retailer rather than a furniture store.”

PeC: When was the website launched, and how have its product offerings evolved since that launch?

Lora: Our website launched in January 2006. When selecting merchandise, we initially emphasized price over quality. But we observed that customers in our showroom tended to buy the higher end of the merchandise we offered in each category. So we discontinued products of lesser quality and gradually purchased better quality furniture. Our prices are still low, so customers enjoy exceptional value. The value quotient — quality relative to price — is what keeps them coming back.

PeC: Do you sell at online locations other than your website?

Lora: We don’t currently market through other sites. At one point, we tried selling rugs on eBay but found that the customers were looking for garage-sale bargains and not first-quality merchandise.

PeC: What is your revenue and how has that changed with the advent of your online presence?

Lora: We sell several million dollars per year, but online amounts to less than 5 percent of the total. We expect this percentage to surge in 2007, though, as some of our long-term efforts in search engine optimization (SEO), marketing and publicity begin to bear fruit.

PeC: How do you market your store?

Lora: Our primary goal is to improve MOTIF’s natural search rankings through SEO. We also use pay-per-click advertising, but we are discouraged by the exponentially rising costs of common search terms. In 2007, we will be launching a new email campaign targeting repeat customers.

PeC: Does someone in-house do your SEO work, or do you outsource it?

Lora: We outsourced our SEO and so far the results have been encouraging. We expect to see dramatic improvement of our placements in 2007.

PeC: Since the company began as a brick-and-mortar company and later added a website, how are those two projects integrated?

Lora: In our minds, the brick-and-mortar store and the online store have equal importance. From our location near Austin we can deliver anywhere in the state of Texas, so we tend to market the physical store to Texans. The online store is used as our vehicle to reach those in the rest of the nation.

We use NetSuite to run the entire operation. We chose NetSuite because it is web-based, integrated and customizable. The software was designed with ecommerce in mind, so slick web sites can be built easily — even by Internet novices. NetSuite’s primary drawback is it was not designed for multichannel retailing and currently lacks point-of-sale (POS) functions. But since the system is customizable, we are working on a solution that will incorporate those POS functions.

PeC: What types of software have you deployed to improve customer experiences?

Lora: Netsuite is equipped with a shopping cart, shipping calculator and a site search function. We started with the structural skeleton that NetSuite provides and added features that we thought would make it easier for a customer to buy our furniture. For example, from most product pages the customer can roll over thumbnail shots to see views of the product from different angles. Many items are pictured in room settings so the customer can envision how the product will look in their home. Customers can also listen to clips from our CDs before they decide to buy them. All of our page templates were customized to give the site a distinctive look. We even incorporated some animation, although for an ecommerce site we believe that less is more.

PeC: Do you use pay-per-click advertising?

Lora: We use Google and Yahoo! for pay-per-click advertising. Google is the best, but for the most effective keywords it can be very expensive. Yahoo! is a lower-cost alternative.

PeC: What has been the most challenging aspect to getting your online operation functioning?

Lora: Hands down, the biggest challenge is marketing the site. The raison d’être for an ecommerce site is to sell, and creating the most visually appealing site on the web is pointless unless customers can find it. Pay-per-click advertising can be effective, but it is expensive, and SEO efforts can take months to produce tangible results.

PeC: Do you sell at online locations other than your website?

Lora: We don’t currently market through other sites. At one point, we tried selling rugs on eBay but found that the customers were looking for garage-sale bargains and not first-quality merchandise.

PeC: What is your revenue and how has that changed with the advent of your online presence?

Lora: We sell several million dollars per year, but online amounts to less than 5 percent of the total. We expect this percentage to surge in 2007, though, as some of our long-term efforts in search engine optimization (SEO), marketing and publicity begin to bear fruit.

PeC: How do you market your store?

Lora: Our primary goal is to improve MOTIF’s natural search rankings through SEO. We also use pay-per-click advertising, but we are discouraged by the exponentially rising costs of common search terms. In 2007, we will be launching a new email campaign targeting repeat customers.

PeC: Does someone in-house do your SEO work, or do you outsource it?

Lora: We outsourced our SEO and so far the results have been encouraging. We expect to see dramatic improvement of our placements in 2007.

PeC: How does your company distinguish itself from other furniture stores in the marketplace?

Lora: People are absolutely blown away by our the showroom at our brick-and-mortar store. The space resembles a loft, with 30-foot ceilings and concrete floors. The furniture is warm and contemporary, with lots of supple leather and rich chocolate-brown finishes. The showroom is punctuated with palm trees, gurgling fountains and tropical flowers. There is gently pulsing music in the background and the employees are smiling. The environment is hip, yet serene and welcoming.

We try to give online shoppers a sense of the “MOTIF look” with our home page. It features rotating photographs of room settings to help people envision how our furniture might look in their homes. The website itself is well organized and easy to use, with furniture grouped into categories for shoppers who are looking to browse. There is also a powerful search function for those looking for a specific product. One page highlights new items, while another contains appropriate gift suggestions.

We think of MOTIF as a lifestyle retailer rather than a furniture store. Those who enjoy incorporating natural elements into their urban lifestyles will find our merchandise appealing.

PeC: What types of software have you deployed to improve customer experiences?

Lora: Netsuite is equipped with a shopping cart, shipping calculator and a site search function. We started with the structural skeleton that NetSuite provides and added features that we thought would make it easier for a customer to buy our furniture. For example, from most product pages the customer can roll over thumbnail shots to see views of the product from different angles. Many items are pictured in room settings so the customer can envision how the product will look in their home. Customers can also listen to clips from our CDs before they decide to buy them. All of our page templates were customized to give the site a distinctive look. We even incorporated some animation, although for an ecommerce site we believe that less is more.

PeC: How do you protect your online business from credit-card fraud issues?

Lora: One of the advantages of an integrated solution like NetSuite is that many fraud-prevention features (like data encryption) are built in. Even though the system is capable of processing payments automatically, we choose to have a human process all our payments. This way, addresses can be verified and any unusual activity can be investigated.

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Comments ( 7 )

  1. Legacy User March 12, 2007 Reply

    Sharp site Steven & John – great images. The exterior of the store looks great as well. All the best to you in Austin.

    Dave
    Wholesale Furniture Brokers

    — *Dave*

  2. Legacy User March 12, 2007 Reply

    Very nice site, I'm sure you'll be successful selling online. It's interesting that you point out the integration with your POS system as something that is high on your priority list. It really seems to be the next "big thing" in ecommerce, and rightfully so.

    Out of curiosity:

    – which POS system do you currently use?
    – which solution are you looking at for the integration?

    Best of luck with marketing the store in 2007.

    Massimo
    Early Impact

    — *Massimo*

  3. Legacy User March 12, 2007 Reply

    OnSite now makes a POS system that's fully integrated w/ NetSuite. It actually uses NetSuite as the GUI and then adds the necessary device integration/tweaks for faster transactions.

    — *Tony Heckmann*

  4. Legacy User March 28, 2007 Reply

    Here is the link to OnSite 's POS
    http://www.netsuite.com/portal/partners/directory/onsite.shtml

    — *Tony Heckmann*

  5. Legacy User March 28, 2007 Reply

    Saw a demo of OnSite's POS for NetSuite. Really good approach.
    Seems to be a great solution.
    Looking forward to getting some of my customers onto it.

    — *NS Reseller*

  6. Legacy User June 10, 2007 Reply

    Great site, Steve, and wonderful ease of utility. Congratulations!! You make Trinity alumni look good. :D

    — *Susanna Russell*

  7. Legacy User February 19, 2008 Reply

    There seems to be a lot of bad press about NetSuite:

    http://www.netsuiteconsumerfraud.com/index.html
    http://app.businessweek.com/UserComments/get_reviews?action=all&productId=12706&pageIndex=1

    I have never used the product, but these comments would make me nervious.

    — *Ask Questions*