About 12 years ago, in another life, I lived in an area of Nashville called Belle Meade. Belle Meade was just nominated as the best place in the United States to retire if you are rich (like I said, it was another life). While I lived there, I had, hands down, the nicest lawn in Belle Meade. And this was a city where the residents bought and paid for the best lawn care available - and I still kicked every one of their butts. How did I do it? It went something like this…
One morning I was looking out the window watching my lawn service spraying something or other on my grass and weeds for which I was paying $79 per treatment, 4 or 5 times a year. As I’m watching this person (who could barely string together 3 sentences) work, I’m noticing that my lawn doesn’t look any better than my neighbor who didn’t do anything but cut her grass. I had just as many weeds and bare spots as she did. It was at that moment I had an epiphany. What makes that guy out there spraying chemicals smarter than me on this subject?
I decided that I was going to really study this lawn care/weed control situation and see if I could do it better myself. Hell, my lawn couldn’t look worse. So, over the course of a year, I immersed myself in studying lawn care. For the next several years I was the envy of Belle Meade. All of my neighbors kept asking me, “Who is your lawn service? Please tell me who it is. I want my lawn to look like yours.” They never believed that I was doing it myself. And, just for spite, I always mowed it in a checkerboard pattern… just to rub it in. But, I’m not in that life anymore. Now I’m in another life. The Internet life!
As I am slowly coming to grips with this whole Internet thing, I’m realizing lots of things. For starters, it’s harder than it looks; just like becoming a lawn care expert in Nashville. It takes a year or more to get it right. Here’s a few of my recent observations:
As I talk to independent retailers all over the country, I pretty much hear the same thing over and over again; “I just don’t have a lot of money to spend on all of this website stuff.” Believe me, I hear ya. But here’s something that occurred to me.
Back in the day, we all spent our money on print, radio, TV, and yellow pages advertising. Nowadays that just doesn’t generate the traffic to our stores like it did 20 years ago. So I’ve shifted the way I think. I now look at investing in my Internet properties just like I used to look at investing in my advertising. Instead of paying a radio station to promote my business, I pay my assistant to do it. She does this by updating all of my Internet properties on a daily basis. Now, I don’t look at it as an expense, but an investment. And it really helps to ease the pain.
Another realization I’ve had is that people just aren’t going to log onto my sites out of the blue. They have to have a reason to go there. That reason has to be me reaching out to them in some way and making them want to click on the link to my online store. Yes, it’s a store now, not just a website. Yesterday I probably had about 20 customers visit my brick and mortar store, and I had 54 people visit my online store. Yikes! That’s an eye opener. This means that I need to constantly build and remodel my online stores just like we all do with our brick and mortar stores.
Something else I realized, the only way I know what most of my other jewelry buddies are doing is by seeing something they post on their Facebook page. Like most busy people, I look at my Facebook newsfeed and don’t really go to other pages on a regular basis. So if they don’t post something, I don’t see it. I don’t have time to just go to their pages to catch up. But, if they post something that comes across my newsfeed that interests me, I’ll certainly click over and spend a few minutes checking it out.
That being said, if I’m not updating my content, my customers are not being reminded that I ROCK, and they need to come spend some money with me.
Yes, I know it’s a pain in the butt, but it has to be done. And it has to be done over, and over, and over again. Every day, every week, every website, every social media platform. Yep.
Also, another thing that I’m adamant about is that everything HAS to be done in house - just like my lawn care - for several reasons. The most important being control over the content. Anyone that’s hired someone to build their website knows what an ordeal it is to have that person update your website after you’ve paid them to build it. These people are in the website building business, not the website updating business.
The learning curve to build and maintain a working online store is pretty steep, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy. Plus, you don’t get a huge bill in the mail from a company that finally updated your website 3 weeks after your one-day sale was over. If you decide this morning to have a one-day sale, you need to be able to just do it without asking anyone.
And, speaking of learning curves, I just paid the price for doing it myself. Thanks to a couple of readers that are much more skilled at this than I am, they pointed out that I was using the wrong platform for one of my main sites. I was looking at having to scrap an entire year’s worth of work and I was seriously bummed out. But, because I’ve got a pretty good handle on this a year and a half in, I came up with a creative solution and haven’t missed a beat. I was able to make the fix because I understand how my websites work - because we do all the work in-house.
So, what was the problem? I built my website using a platform called Weebly. Once you figure Weebly out, it’s very easy to build a professional online presence. But, it’s not a store! You can’t buy anything there. It’s simply a ‘Hey, look at me. Here’s my headshot, phone number, e-mail, and address.’ Oops.
In order to be able to sell products you need a shopping cart. And, taking fellow columnist Brad Simon’s advice, I didn’t go for the free shopping cart option. I went with one that I have to pay a monthly fee to use. I decided to go with a company called Volusion. And let me tell you, that was a nightmare and a half. The TID numbers, the MID numbers, the Gateway numbers, the processing settings, the Shipping gateways, the sales tax setups, etc. But, I just checked my bank account and I just got my first electronic deposit from my online store in my checking account. Even though it was just me buying something for $3.70 from myself, the money came out of my debit account and went around the virtual world and ended up right back in my account. Success!
But - there’s always a but, isn’t there - Volusion is a great shopping cart, but it’s not a real pretty website. Weebly, on the other hand, is a pretty website, but people can’t buy from me. So, not wanting to compromise on image and lose a year and a half of work, here’s what I did. I kept my Weebly site and directed the ‘Order our Products’ link to go to my one page Volusion website. All the pretty pictures and flowery words are on one website, and all the shopping cart functions are on another… and it’s seamless. Go to www.TouchedImpressions.com and you’ll see my Weebly site, and hit the ‘order our products’ link and you’ll see my Volusion site. Sweet!
Of course I wanted to throw a heavy ring mandrel through my monitor a thousand times or so, but now everything works. And now we can add or remove products at will, change prices at will, and post pretty pictures of new product whenever we want without involving an outside company. All I have to do is ask my assistant to do it and it gets done right then. Yeah!
Check it out and let me know what you think. Now get out there and build your own store. You can do it!
Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide.