Lessons Learned: Harvey Jelks of Jelks Gourmet Coffee

“Lessons Learned” is a biweekly series where we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences and advice. For this installment, we interviewed Harvey Jelks, president of Jelks Gourmet Coffee, an online retailer of roughly 1,500 freshly roasted coffees and Cajun food products. Jelks has been in the coffee business since 1972, and in 1978 he purchased the F.E. Morgan Coffee Company, which has been roasting beans since 1896. Jelks went online with the business in 1999, and the Shreveport, La.-based store now employs six and garners just under $1 million in annual revenue. Here we give you Jelks’ experience and advice.

Harvey Jelks

Third Party Business Resources

“We do all our own stuff, though we started out having other people do some of it for us. We realized that if we wanted to get anywhere with our site we needed to do it on our own.”

Shopping Cart Software

“We use ShopFactory out of Australia. We looked at several different ones and played around with them. We tried Miva, and we decided it was a little more complicated. No matter what cart you get, there’ll be something you want that it doesn’t do. Find the cart that does the most things you want it to do.”


“We tried a couple different ones and wound up with Go Daddy. We haven’t had any problems with Go Daddy as a host. All hosts go down occasionally, but this has been very rare with them. You have to look for someone you can communicate with who respond to problems you have. Go Daddy is good about getting back to you really quick. Your hosting company is the smallest of you’re your problems. Making your cart operate like you want it to is a larger problem. With some of the hosts we tried, when we tried to contact them about a serious problem, they disappeared. Go Daddy has been really responsive.”


“I’m the only one who works on Internet, everyone else works in-house roasting and grinding coffee. The best thing is if you find someone you can show the method, and they can apply it instead of taking shortcuts. The worst problem is little mistakes— not being careful, filling incomplete orders or shipping to a wrong or incomplete address. If you find a good, honest, hardworking person, you’ve found a good employee.”


“Our biggest channel is pay-per-click with Google. We’ve been on Google, Yahoo! and MSN, but about a year and a half ago we settled down on Google, putting all our money in one spot to get best effect from that. We also use Google Base, and Shopzilla. We have done print ads before in trade magazines, but they didn’t work very well.”

“We’ve only been with the comparison shopping sites for a month or two. So far it has been a good experience. Anything to get the product out there for the customer to see. People use those when they shop because they want to go one place, see a bunch of products and find the one they want. It’s all right there instead of with general searches. Some have reviews, so customers can see what other people have to say. I’ve used them to order printers and computers for myself.”

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

“We’ve used it for about three years. One month I’ll figure out what’s effective, and the next month it’s not, so I try something else. We’re not too savvy in the PPC industry, so we try different things. We’ve tried keyword research, misspelled words, positioning, a little bit of everything. I’ve been doing it for years, but I still don’t have it figured out. Google Analytics is very helpful. Everyone who has an ecommerce site should use it or something similar so they have an idea of what’s going on. Without something telling you where people are coming from and what they’re looking at, you’re just shooting in the dark Analytics programs are not the answer, but they at least turns the light on.”

Search Engine Optimization

“That’s where I need the most training. I wish there was somewhere locally that would teach us that. Local colleges are behind in this technology. I’ll do something like position a keyword, and then our search results go the other way. I’ve heard so much bad stuff about SEO companies that guarantee you’ll be on the front page. You can get on front page, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay there.”

“With coffee, there are millions of people with related sites, so it’s very competitive. I used to try to figure out what search page I was on, but I quit on that. People are becoming more savvy in using search engines. They’re not just searching for coffee, but ‘gourmet flavored coffee.’ We’re usually at bottom of page 4 or 5 for ‘flavored coffee,’ but that’s still a very generic term. Instead, people will search for some thing like ‘Jamaican Me Crazy Coffee.’”

Email Marketing

“We use Constant Contact to send out emails. At first, I didn’t think customers would want emails from us. We would send out a sort of generic one occasionally. Then the Internet group I meet with for lunch suggested sending out at least one a week. I went back, worked on it and sent one out. The results were amazing. It’s definitely one of those things anybody starting out should do as soon as they get their website up. It hardly costs anything, too.”

Expense Control

“We’ve been doing this for 37 years, so our natural instinct is on expense control. We have a 10,000 square foot roasting plant and we’ll always be watching expenses with that. With the Internet, there are hardly any expenses except for advertising. We advertise more during seasons when people looking to order, like holidays. If you’re not watching it, you can spend a ton of money on PPC, and really quick too. We monitor our stuff all the time. You can’t just stick it out there and forget about it.”

Accounting Software

“We use Open Systems. It’s not integrated very well, but I’ve been on it a long time, and it’s hard to switch from something I’m familiar with. We eventually would like company that’s fully integrated with our site.”

Order Management Software

“It’s all in Open Systems.”

Shipping and Order Fulfillment

“We have almost all our own inventory. On the website, there are a few items drop shipped. We ship via USPS and UPS.. The best thing to do with [shipping] providers is to have a representative who can help you learn things you need to get started like labels and packaging. Damage can happen if you’re not careful.”

Credit Card Payments

“We used to process all credit card in-house. We then switched over and started using PayPal, which offers a lot of opportunities. Processing cards is all automatic now. We use Google Checkout, too. We started using it when it was free. So altogether we take PayPal, credit cards and Google Checkout. We’ve only had a couple potential chargeback problems. We sent PayPal all the documentation, and we haven’t had any chargebacks go through. We haven’t experienced anything with Google Checkout. With PayPal you get good customer service. With Google, I don’t know how to get a hold of those folks if I have a problem.”

Social Media

“We’ve looked at it, but we haven’t really got our feet yet. It seems to be the direction most people want to go. When we get email newsletters, we’re starting to notice at bottom of newsletters they say ‘Find us on Facebook.’ It’s something I’m going to have to work on. It needs to be someone who works on it almost full time to be effective.”


“We do have one, but we haven’t done much with that either. We haven’t noticed any increase in rankings. That’s an area we really need to work on.”

Customer Service

“Without customer service, you’re going to lose customers. That’s the completion of a sale. If the customer places an order and has any problems, they’ll want someone to talk to just like a brick and mortar store. They can call us any time, and we always answer emails. If you’re not there people will look for someone else.”

General Business Attitude

“I’ve been in the coffee business for 37 years, so I’d better be happy. I love the Internet. It opens doors to a lot of people and helps a lot of people enjoy what we do. I like to think, “On Christmas morning, how many people are going to wake up and brew a pot of something we made?”

“The misconception with ecommerce is that they think it’s totally different than with a brick and mortar store. Everything that applies to brick and mortar applies to ecommerce. You have to have attractive online store, follow through with service and be available for contact. Some people think they can just get this website up and become rich, but doesn’t work like that. Not using the Internet is like having a side door on your store that’s locked, but ecommerce opens this door. The potential number of customers is endless.”

Brendan Gibbons
Brendan Gibbons
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