Lessons Learned is a biweekly series where we ask ecommerce business owners to share their experiences and advice. For this installment, we interviewed Jonathon Hall, business development manager for TheShopFittingsStore.com, an Essex, U.K.-based online retailer of retail shop fittings, such as slatwall panels, hooks, garment rails, mannequins, and display cases. The store’s gross revenue totaled roughly £80,000 [$131,904 U.S.] in 2008, and Hall expects that figure to more than triple in 2009.
Shopping Cart Software
“CubeCart v4. We chose this because it’s very easy to personalize; it’s also inexpensive and has very good support. Initially, we picked a domain and bought ecommerce hosting through Heart Internet, which allowed us to play around with trial versions of some different carts. [However,] we found the ease of general day-to-day use and ease of customization of CubeCart to fit our needs, so we purchased the latest version and we have never regretted it.”
“There are two of us right now, although there’s probably enough work for four. I take care of the online sales and telephone sales and existing customers’ stewardship. The other employee looks after finances and inventory.
“We also have the support of a wholesale factory team at our distribution warehouse. We use drop shipping for some items, too.”
“The majority is paid search because it drives approximately 50 percent of our traffic and business. About 30 percent of our traffic comes from Google’s organic listings, and 20 percent from direct traffic, with a small percentage from other search engines.
“We target different sectors with our marketing on [a seasonal] schedule. For example, in preparing for the spring season, we would target garden centers. Now, we’re looking at golf shops. For Christmas, we look to target gift and clothing retailers.
“We rely on the addition new customers every day, and, while we don’t rely on repeat business, we have seen a rise in repeat customers recently. We’ve surveyed customers and know that our strongest selling point is the quality of our service and fast delivery times.
“We’re looking at different social media channels, but, because we sell business-to-business, they haven’t been a real priority for us.”
“We use email as both a retention and acquisition strategy. We send monthly emails to existing customers and also purchase qualified email lists regularly that focus on different niches within the retail industry. For example, the aforementioned golf shops.”
“We’ve learned to think very strategically with our Google AdWords campaign. We don’t just go for the obvious keywords. Instead, we think outside the box and also target longer searches. This applies even more so when building meta data for organic listings. We not only target main keywords, but we have had great success with adding locality to our keywords, such as ‘London’ or ‘Essex.'”
“We pride ourselves in excellent customer care. I believe that the more ways there are for a customer to contact you, the more trust they have in spending on your site.
“We respond to customer inquiries via live chat and telephone. In fact, live chat has become a major part of our site. We use chats to provide shipping and delivery estimates and to answer product questions. I always try to get the customer to close the chat with a phone call where I can ask for the sale.”
“Shipping is an important place to control expenses. Drop shippers can charge fees on a per-item basis. What we tend to do (when we can) is save up as many orders as possible throughout the week, collect them in our own vehicle from the supplier, and then use our own carrier to deliver the items for us.
“Staffing is another important area. [The two of us] get through it OK, and are saving on staffing cost, vacation time, and [other employee expenses].
“[Another important] area to not cut corners on is technology. Don’t be tempted to go for cheap second-user PCs or servers. Buy the best you can afford, and in the long run it will work out much better.”
“We use Sage accounting software.”
“Our company works to reach end users. Normally, small shop owners would employ a shop fitter who would mark up the product and make any renovations expensive. By supplying quality products directly to the end user, we are enabling them to make changes they want to their shop in a more cost effective manner.”
Credit Card Payments
“We have a PayPal merchant account.”
General Business Attitude
“Keep it simple, and keep on top of the finances 24-7. We offer friendly and helpful telephone support, we are quickly becoming well-known for our fast delivery times, and we offer a great quality product.”