Management & Finance

Lessons Learned: Wetsuitwearhouse.com's Moleskie

“Lessons Learned” is an occasional series where we ask seasoned ecommerce professionals about their mistakes and successes. For this installment, we’ve asked Chris Moleskie, owner and president of Wetsuit Wearhouse, Inc., a Hagerstown, Md.-based online retailer of wetsuits and accessories. It was launched in 2003, with Moleskie as its only employee. It now has three employees, but varies seasonally, with annual revenue of over $1 million. It offers over 300 unique products. Here we give you Moleskie’s experiences and suggestions.

Kevin Moleskie

On general advice for ecommerce merchants

“It is tough to tell this to new merchants who are very budget conscious, but you get what you pay for. Most of our early mistakes could have been avoided by not going cheap.”

On shopping cart mistakes

“We have always used Miva Merchant. It has been excellent for us, since anything is possible with regards to customization. One mistake was hosting with the cheapest provider who lacked top-notch tech support. Another mistake was hiring our first web developer who was not a Miva expert.”

On hosting issues

“Since we are web-only, hosting is a critical component of our operations. We switched early on from a cheapie host that lacked tech support to DotCom Host in San Diego. These guys answer the phones day and night and assist with everything from ‘how do I’ questions to site performance issues.”

On marketing strategies

“We have tried to advertise in action sports magazines a number of times without ever seeing a payoff. Pay-per-click advertising was critical to our initial success, but we made the mistake of managing it ourselves. Hiring a PPC management firm has paid off. It took me a while to realize it, but in some cases it is better for me to stick to the wetsuits and let the professionals work their magic on other aspects of the business.”

On search engine optimization

“Our first site was basic. None of us knew a thing about SEO, so we were at the bottom of the search engine barrel. Hiring a professional SEO firm to get us on track was one of the best investments ever made. Type ‘wetsuit’ into Google; you can’t argue with what these guys have done for our business.”

On expense control

“When the business started I was the only employee, so net profits equaled my salary. This made me very cautious of any expenses and that thought process has carried forward through the years. My advice to other merchants would be to negotiate, and negotiate hard. We didn’t get many breaks from vendors when first starting out, but as the business grew I re-negotiated rates and contracts.”

On order management and back-end automation

“We used QuickBooks for the first three years to manage inventory, orders, history and accounting. QuickBooks worked fine for us, but everything was manual and slow. Every single order had to be re-keyed from Miva into QuickBooks. We switched over to Stone Edge Order Manager one and a half years ago and have never looked back. We are now on cruise control when it comes to order processing and inventory management.”

On shipping and fulfillment

“We have used FedEx Ground and Express since day one and are very pleased. Our biggest mistake was using FedEx Ground to ship to Canada. If the recipient refuses to pay import taxes, it gets charged to our account. A success was adding the U.S. Postal Service into our shipping system. The flat rate box and envelope program is a very economical and efficient shipping method that finally got us to the break-even point with shipping.”

On staying organized

“Organization has been key to my success, and I have many organizational tools to thank for that. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Blackberry, Google Floating Task List, MS Outlook, Dual Monitors and my reading glasses.”

On general business attitude

“I love it! It has been exciting watching the business grow over the past five years. I don’t have as much time to spend out on the water, but life is full of trade-offs.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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