Merchant Talk is a weekly discussion with an actual ecommerce merchant. The new Practical eCommerce segment gives small, online business owners an opportunity to hear from their peers in the ecommerce space. For this inaugural Merchant Talk we spoke with Cynthia Snyder, owner of YonderStar.com.
Practical eCommerce: Tell us a little bit about your site.
Cynthia Snyder: “We launched Yonder Star in 2000. We are a Christmas shop, as is probably evident by our name. We have the largest and most extensive collection of nativity scenes offered on the web.”
PeC: How did you get interested in ecommerce? 2000 was pretty early in ecommerce.
Snyder: “It’s funny. We actually started our ecommerce site with the thought of having it as a springboard toward a brick-and-mortar Christmas shop. We figured an ecommerce site would be a good way for us to get our feet wet with the product and hopefully build up a little bit of a customer base and then move on to a brick-and-mortar shop. However, with the popularity of shopping online, Yonder Star has continued to grow over the years and has really kept us all quite busy. We determined just to put all of our energies into the ecommerce site. ”
PeC: Help us understand a little bit about the size of your business. Can you tell us how many SKUs (stock keeping units) you have, or maybe your gross revenue?
Snyder: “We stock somewhere in the area of 2,500 SKUs. We are seasonal, so that does fluctuate. In the Christmas season, that tops out around 2,500 and then dips lower in the springtime. We do a good amount of drop-shipping in addition to what we stock. We’re expecting to top $500,000 in annual sales this year. So, we’ve been happy with the growth.”
PeC: Tell us a little bit about the back-end of your business in terms of the shopping cart, your order management system, accounting, and email.
PeC: Do you use a third party order management system?
Snyder: “We do not. We handle all of that ourselves. We also work with QuickBooks for our accounting software so we bring everything from Yahoo! over to QuickBooks.”
PeC: How do you market your site?
Snyder: “Primarily it’s all online marketing. We use Google AdWords. We submit a fair amount of products into BizRate, also known as Shopzilla. We upload to Yahoo! Product Submit. We, as most ecommerce sites are, are very focused on our search engine optimization [SEO], so we spend a lot of time trying to make sure that our primary keywords are coming up well with the search engines. We find that keeping good email communication with our customers is really helpful for our business. We’re currently using RatePoint, although we do tend to shop around and typically switch email marketing services every few years.”
PeC: What have you done wrong that you wished you could have done differently?
Snyder: “When we started off, we were very focused on streamlining our product line. A few years in, we decided to branch out to have a more diverse amount of Christmas offerings. We thought it would be a natural step for our business. As it turns out, that was really a mistake for us. It drew our focus away from Yonder Star’s primary product line. We began stocking Christmas ornaments and found there is just an enormous breadth of options out there for what you would stock. It proved extremely difficult. We would need to open up a completely different branch of our business to really give it proper attention. So, we decided to learn from that mistake and to refocus on streamlining our offerings.”
PeC: We don’t speak to a lot of merchants who’ve been selling products online as long as you have. Do you have any advice for other merchants starting out or merchants that might be struggling with their business?
Snyder: “Something that really keeps customers coming back to us is our ability to provide quality service, to provide personalized service whenever possible. The Internet, I believe, is really the re-advent of the mom-and-pop business. A lot of customers out there really seem to miss the personalized attention that a mom-and-pop would bring. We’re on a first name basis with many of our repeat customers. They send us Christmas cards or photos of their nativity displays. It has shown us that our customers really appreciate that type of attention.”