Practical Ecommerce

High Performer Series: Doversaddlery.com

Former Olympians and United States Equestrian team members Jim and David Powers established Dover Saddlery because they felt riders in New England would appreciate a saddlery shop dedicated to providing a broad selection of the best tack available. Three decades later, it’s clear to see that the Powers’ hunch was right.

Dover Saddlery, Inc. has grown to be the largest direct marketer of equestrian products in the United States since being established in Wellesley, Mass., in 1975. In addition to its monthly catalog, there are now nine retail stores operating under the names of Dover Saddlery and Smith Brothers. In 1996, a website was launched, and it’s now generating about 30 percent of the company’s approximate $70 million annual revenue.

Jeannine Moore is director of ecommerce for the company.

PeC: How has Doversaddlery.com evolved?

Jeannine MooreMoore: In 1996, it certainly was not an ecommerce site. It was more information site and a listing of closeout merchandise that could be ordered via telephone. Then in 2000, we launched our first ecommerce website, and that was a very deliberate, slow approach to sort of get in, see what is happening and learn as much as we could. We were very deliberate in learning a lot, finding out what was out there and sort of seeing how we could integrate the site into our business for everyone — the best use for our customer and our company.

PeC: Do you sell at other online locations in addition to your website such?

Moore: We have sold on eBay; we do not at this time. We have not sold on Amazon. We do use shopping comparison sites.

PeC: How do you get the word out about your store to this niche market you serve?

Moore: We market our store in a variety of ways — No. 1, certainly, is our catalog. We were a direct marketer for years before we started our ecommerce site, so the direct marketing with the catalog obviously is a huge part of our marketing for the web. Also, we do have pay-per-click, and we do email marketing. We try to get as much viral marketing out of our site, and we do as much email marketing as we can because horse people know horse people.

PeC: How do you handle customer inquires from the various sales channels?

Moore: A customer may be a retail store customer and feel very comfortable going into the retail store for a question or a concern they might have, in which case they might be dealing with customer service there at the store level. Or a retail store customer may call the call center directly for a customer service concern. So, it is really up to customers in which way they discuss customer service with us, but we do have a central call center that is in the same building that we have our warehouse.

PeC: Could you explain how the catalog and website work in concert with each other?

Moore: The way we look at it corporately is that all the channels are a net. Basically, they are there to catch the order in which ever way the customer feels comfortable in placing the order. A customer may order in multiple ways, just at different times at different channels during different circumstances. So, basically, when a catalog goes out, all three channels are there to serve as a net to catch orders. Therefore, if you take away one of those channels, you are limiting your customers in ways they want to purchase from you. So, they work very well together.

PeC: How does Dover Saddlery distinguish itself from others providing equine-related products?

Moore: I think our customer service makes it unique. Our customer service is staffed with real riders, lots of them top competitor riders, and those are the people answering the phone. So our customer service and our satisfaction guarantee are the No. 1 ways we distinguish ourselves.

PeC: There are multiple ways to search for a product at your site. Why was that established?

Moore: Because customers may be coming with a different type of shopping in mind. For instance, it might be somebody who just received a catalog, they just type in the catalog item number, and it is a quick way to check out. Someone might be looking for something specific, something very specific in which the text-based search would work the best for them because they will get instant results. Someone might come, and they just want to shop around. They just want to browse. So, we offer a multitude of different ways to shop because we feel there is a multitude of ways to shop, and in certain situations you may be using one over the other.

PeC: How could a customer use the “wish list” function on your site?

Moore: One thing about the niche market is there are a lot of people who do not know what a horse needs or what a rider might need because it is so specific to your discipline. A wish list actually works really well. If you take the scenario of a riding wife and her husband is not a rider, it is an easy way for her to go in and choose exactly what she needs. She can put it on a list, and then allow her husband to access to it for a holiday such as Christmas or a birthday. It works quite like a wedding registry, actually. It works great for a niche market where lots of people would not know exactly what type of things you would need or use.

PeC: What advice do you have for up-and-coming ecommerce site owners?

Moore: I would say find someone to help who is knowledgeable and who is willing to help build a successful site for you. And then just look forward and be excited because it is a very exciting channel to be in. There are lots of exciting things to do; you can really do that on the web. It is very exciting.

What is a high performer?

Five sites have built dynamic businesses in unique niches

Some people may define that purely based on gross revenue numbers or by having a 30 percent pretax profit margin. Others might say a high performer is a company that dominates its market sector or boasts a double-digit conversion rate.

We are all familiar with the success of Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon and other sentinels of online commerce. However, rather than focus on the handful of ebusinesses you might read about in The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis, we felt it was important to showcase online businesses we see doing a terrific job in highly-targeted niche markets.

The five businesses we are showcasing will not be considered among the 10 highest-grossing revenue sites on the web. However, each of these has built a successful business. What one thing do they each have in common? The owners built their businesses around a passion. As you’ll see, those passions run the spectrum of diversity — they include bow ties, appliance parts, horse tack, organizational products and pet supplies.

Each of these sites generates millions of dollars — from $2 million to $125 million in gross revenues — and has stood the test of time by operating for the better part of a decade.

These high-performing sites have proven that online success isn’t reserved for businesses in Silicon Valley. From small-town Vermont to Southern California to rural Massachusetts to the woodlands of Northern Wisconsin, our five high performers show that success has no boundaries.

If there are central themes to each message from the featured businesses, they are: Success generally comes to people who love the products they sell; be the expert in your niche and, above all, take customer service very seriously.

The five sites we will showcase include: Drsfosterandsmith.com, Organize.com, Appliancepartspros.com, Doversaddlery.com and Beautiesltd.com.

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User January 29, 2007 Reply

    Dover Saddlery's site is very pleasing to the eye – sharp and concise layout, images and information. In fact, I have been referring to it often as inspiration for my site design principles.

    I very much enjoy these interviews with those who have found success in ecommerce ventures. Keep them coming !!!

    TOM C.

    — *Tom C.*