“Lessons Learned” is a series where we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences and advice. For this installment, we interviewed Jean Wnuk, co-owner of AllThingsJeep.com, headquartered in Shirley, Mass.
AllThingsJeep.com sells unique gift items for the Jeep enthusiast, boasting gross revenue of $1.7 million in 2008. Wnuk expects revenue to exceed $2.2 million in 2009.
“Put simply, we are ‘Jeepers,’ and we would be a customers for our own products. We found an untapped niche and an underserved marketplace in an enthusiast group looking for Jeep gift items and memorabilia. I worked for retail and mail order companies that moved into ecommerce when it became a viable distribution channel. We leveraged this experience with my husband’s business know-how to start our own company.”
Shopping Cart Software, Web Hosting
“Yahoo!. It was a complete package that was simple to get started with.”
“There are seven people that make up the All Things Jeep team. I do the marketing, the product management, vendor relations, and website maintenance. My husband Norman does all the finances, long-range planning, strategy, and human resources. Others include the warehouse manager, two warehouse staff, one customer service manager, and an all-purpose intern. We don’t outsource anything.”
“We have done pay-per-click and haven’t gotten as much of a return on investment as when we spend our money advertising in channels that are truly within our marketing vertical, such as Jeep forums and websites.
“We do extremely well in organic search by following best practices. I think about the terms that people will be searching for and write content to focus on that. I ensure landing page content is well written and clear. We don’t use manufacturer product descriptions; we write our own. We focus on inbound link-building, and on cross-selling and linking to related items across the pages.”
Social Media and Networking
“Because we have an enthusiast customer base, social media is a winner for us. This means participating in the Jeep forums on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace; local Jeep events; and supporting the Jeep clubs around the world.
“One of the most successful marketing channels we have is our Jeep Customer Photo Albums.”
“We typically do email marketing twice a month. One email will be to the entire customer base with a promotion, and the other will be targeted to previous buyers of a certain product area. We continue to refine and improve our segmentation process in order to provide timely, relevant information. It’s part of good customer relations.”
“We use contests as a way to draw in new visitors to the site and strengthen our current customer relationships. We’ve held a ‘Top Jeep Dog Contest’, ‘Biggest Jeep Freek’ Contest, and ‘Go Topless Day Photo Contents’ for topless Jeeps. We use our blog to announce the contests and also post the results.”
“There comes a point in time when hiring more people is the right thing to do, because it allows the business owner to work on the business rather than in the business. I think our business grows faster when we can be strategic in long-term planning, rather than when we are packing orders or ordering inventory.
“It was a big step financially to hire a warehouse manager. But as a result, instead of working on placing inventory orders and managing inventory all the time, I can work on finding new product lines. We spend money in a way that sets us up to be at the place we want to be a year from now.
“We also rate-shop everything that costs us money on an ongoing basis, from shipping to credit card processing to bank account fees. We make sure we participate in online forums to get feedback too.”
“QuickBooks, integrated with our order management software.”
“We use Stone Edge Order Manager to coordinate inventory and vendor relationships. Stone Edge allows us to barcode inventory, automatically generate purchase orders, and coordinate drop shipping.”
Credit Card Payments
“We use PayPal and a merchant account with a local bank that gave us the best rates. We rate-shop credit card processors annually.”
“It’s the little things that make you outshine the big guys, such as a handwritten ‘thanks’ on every packing slip, a little freebie in each box (i.e., a bumper sticker) and standard policies that build customer confidence across the board.
“Some of our biggest successes have been because of customer participation. Our contests really give us information we use to market to our customers. There’s not a product out there that you can’t generate some sort of excitement with a contest. It’s a time consuming thing to do, but there’s not a large expense and it’s fun.
“I think instant innovation is what sets small businesses apart from the corporate giants. We, as small companies, have the ability to out-market the big companies. We can come up with an idea today and execute it tomorrow.”
General Business Attitude
“To successfully build an online business, find a niche of passionate people. Build a store designed for ‘lovers,’ people who love a certain thing. For us, that’s Jeeps. Give them what they want and then some. [Your customers] will become your best salespeople.”