Practical Ecommerce

Lessons Learned: Richard Kuipers of Windmill Trading

“Lessons Learned” is a biweekly series where we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences and advice. For this installment, we interviewed Richard Kuipers, owner of Windmill Trading, a Seattle-based online retailer of computer parts and electronics. Kuipers has been the sole operator of the business since 2001, and he has been selling electronics online since 1999. Windmill Trading makes between $250,000 and $500,000 in annual revenue. Here we give you Kuipers’ experience and suggestions.

Richard Kuipers

Shopping Cart Software

“I started on Zen Cart. I downloaded and started configuring, and after a week I still wasn’t done. Running out of time because the holiday season was coming up, I decided I’d get something easier and signed up with E-junkie. I worked with one of the developers, and we got it to work so E-junkie will work with my site. It’s very easy to configure, add items and edit the items. It costs me $15 a month. I do wish they had a tutorial. They added so many features, and I don’t know how to use them.”


“I designed and put together my own site that is very bare bones. I host with 1& I’ve had that since 2006. I had a couple hours of downtime a couple years ago, and that was it. I just barely scratched the surface of what you’re allowed to host, they give you so much space. FrontPage is my editor of choice. I’m sure people cringe when they read that. I actually bought VCOM Web Easy, which cost like $100, and I worked with that two weeks and gave up. It was full of bugs, poorly supported, and it didn’t follow Windows conventions. I had a copy of FrontPage, and I stuck with that.”


“I am a one man show. I’m a control freak; no one works as well as I do. I could hire a high school kid to do my packing and shipping, but I’m afraid they won’t do as good a job as I do. As long as I can handle it myself, I’ll continue to do it.”


“I don’t advertise at all, it’s all word of mouth. I spend a lot of time on SEO (search engine optimization), and I have a newsletter I send out every month. I ask customers to recommend my site to others who might be looking. I do interviews about five or six times a year. I like to have more controlled growth. That’s what it’s about for me.”

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

“I’ve never even tried it. I know there are some problems associated with it, but I just see no need for it because I’m much more a personal business than a number business.”

Search Engine Optimization

“I find out a site that does well. If I have a new item, I do a search on the item and find the sites at the top of the search. I look at their keywords, and ‘steal’ them.”

Expense Control

“I work from home. In general, I really don’t have that many overhead expenses. I don’t advertise. I finance with a credit card, like most small businesses. What I do is keep an eye on the billing cycle and try to synchronize the purchasing with the credit card bill.”

Accounting Software

“QuickBooks Simple Start, the easy version. I’m happy enough with it. I don’t do very detailed accounting, even though I should. I’ve had no problems with the software.”

Order Management Software

“I don’t use order management software, just my own system. It’s my own tracking system I developed over the years in Microsoft Excel. If I get much bigger, I would consider an order management system, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon because I envision growing more in the drop shipping business than the inventory business. It will cost more money, but in the end it’s easier.”

Shipping and Order Fulfillment

“I work out of a large guest house with a two car garage I use as storeroom. If it’s something over $100, I use a drop shipping company. I didn’t used to sell larger items. I started doing that about a year ago. I keep my own records in a very detailed spreadsheet. I deal with two drop shippers, and You have to be careful who you do business with. You are putting your reputation in someone else’s hands. After checking them out, you say a prayer and just hope it works out. And here’s a word to the wise: Never pay for the ‘privilege’ of doing business with a drop shipper. In my experience, those are the less reputable ones.”

Credit Card Payments

“I use Google Checkout and PayPal. I try to push as much of my credit card business to Google Checkout. I hate PayPal, but since it’s the biggest name in town you have to use it. There is no customer service. If I send an email to Google Checkout, I get a personal email within hours. I call PayPal, and half the time they don’t know what they’re talking about and half the time they don’t care. If Google were to really put in an effort, they really could put PayPal out of business. When I tell my customers I could send a Google invoice, they say, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ I say I could send a PayPal invoice, and they say, ‘Go ahead.’”

Social Media

“I don’t use any one of the social networking sites for business purposes. It’s here to stay, and I’m sure eventually I’ll have to join in, but right now I don’t see the need. I will probably have to join in sooner rather than later. I’m not really looking forward to that. I’m busy enough as it is.”


“I actually used to have a blog, and I stopped doing it because I really didn’t get any business out of it. I didn’t take the time to update it regularly enough. I would only do a post about once a week, which I’ve read is not really good. I didn’t see an advantage, so I’ve stopped doing it. I didn’t notice any change in SEO. My hits have not suffered at all since I stopped updating the blog. For me it didn’t work, and it’s probably my own fault.”

Customer Service

“ is quite unsophisticated, and I think people like that. I deal with my customers on a personal level. They don’t have order numbers, they have names. Every order gets a personal packing slip, which I sign. My background is in computers and user support. I think people like that because it’s someone behind the help desk who knows what he’s doing. I figured out pretty soon as a small business owner there’s no way you can compete with large retailers on price. So, naturally, what you compete with is customer service and speed of ordering. If someone places an order at 10 a.m., it’s packed by 11 a.m. and ready to go. My customers usually receive their item before a large competitor has even shipped it. I spend about an average of 30 to 60 minutes a day talking to customers. Sometimes they have just a computer problem, even if they haven’t placed an order. I have several customers that I have no problem sending an item even before they pay. One of them, he’s ordered from me since 2005. It’s a trust that I’ve built up with my customers.”

General Business Attitude

“I’m very happy. You’ll never get rich doing this, but you’ll get paid in a different way. I’m much less stressed, even in these depressing times. Business is down from last year, but I’m still happier than having to slave for a paycheck. When I worked for a corporation and did the online business part-time, I had a six-figure salary, but I got no joy out of my work. Now I make nowhere near that, but I’m much happier. I don’t really get stressed.”

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

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