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The Lollipop Book Club is the Reading Gift Kids Love

The Lollipop Book Club is the Reading Gift Kids LoveName of your company and URL?

The business I own and operate is called The Lollipop Book Club. Our website address is www.lollipopbookclub.com.

What is your product or service?

The Lollipop Book Club business model is really a product/service hybrid. We are a gift of the month company specializing in the delivery of children’s books for babies through pre-teens. All of our books have been carefully chosen based on reviews and organized by age and various themes to make the gift-purchasing experience easy.

Unlike other book clubs, our customers can order a variety of book gifts from single books to year-long subscriptions. There are no commitments or contracts involved once a children’s book club gift is purchased.

Every time a package arrives for a child, it is like a big event. The gift is delivered in a bright package with the child’s name in big letters. Inside the child will find a book, a gourmet lollipop in a variety of fun shapes (i.e. zoo animals, sea creatures, trucks, cars, airplanes, princesses, holiday characters, etc.), and a bookplate with a special message from the giver of this memorable gift.

Why did you start your company?

I started my company 4 years ago when I became tired of spending money on toys that were forgotten not long after the wrapping paper had been torn. I experienced this firsthand with my own children and quickly realized that the problem was not mine alone.

One year I wrapped a bunch of books for my oldest son, who was turning four at the time, and was disappointed by his lackluster reaction to his birthday gift. Yet I knew he loved books, as do most children. That was my “lightbulb moment”. There had to be some way to level the playing field so that books could compete with other more dynamic gifts on birthdays and holidays.

How was it financed ?

This is a question I love to answer. I financed the business myself, but I didn’t have much money with which to gamble. Specifically, I spent about $3000 out of pocket to get The Lollipop Book Club up and running. From there, I reinvested profits in order to grow it into a financially healthy business that is growing annually at a rate of 40%.

It is important to share that I invested a tremendous amount of sweat equity, and there is a value there that must be taken into account. If I had paid myself a reasonable wage for the number of hours I spent learning how to build and grow the business, the amount I “financed” would be in the tens of thousands of dollars. So, technically, this is “lost income” that I could have made if I was gainfully employed during the initial start up period, but fortunately there is no interest rate or loan to repay.

What almost killed your business in the start?

A lousy website! The navigation was clumsy and customers needed a tremendous amount of time and patience to complete a basic transaction. There were not enough images to convey what I was selling and not any content that would allow search engines to find The Lollipop Book Club in cyberspace. I was sticking to my plan of not overspending out of the gate, and boy did it show!

I did somehow manage to take in a few orders, but mostly from friends who were throwing me a bone. Fortunately, the product itself did not disappoint, so those people who gave me the benefit of the doubt returned and placed more orders. After a few months, I noticed that while my business was slowly growing, it was predominantly a result of repeat customers and word of mouth. I was not acquiring new customers who found my website through Google or anywhere else.

I knew I needed a new website and began contacting web developers who wanted anywhere from $7000 to $10,000 to develop a fully customized website. The major problem, even more than the expense, is that I did not have enough experience running my business to identify everything I needed the website to do. Every time I received a request from a customer, it turned into another feature requirement for the website (i.e. send books every other month instead of monthly, include a different gift message for each book, etc.). I was afraid of spending the money and not having a site that was capable of doing what I needed it to do simply because I could not yet develop a comprehensive list of requirements.

After quite a bit of research, I came across Merchant Moms which is a web-hosting business that offers a platform for small businesses upon which to build their websites. I was able to hire someone to build a professional template for a reasonable rate, but I learned how to load and manage the content, do the search engine optimization, and customize the features so that it could do exactly what I needed.

What is the one thing that you did right?

There are really two important things that I did right. First, once I realized that I had something that people wanted to buy, but also something that could be easily replicated, I had my business name trademarked. I must say that the cost was a bit hard to swallow at first, especially since I was billed every time my lawyer sent me any type of correspondence regarding the process. But in the end, this was what I needed to do to protect The Lollipop Book Club name and reputation.

The second thing I did right was to keep my spending in check. I did not take out business loans, apply for a second mortgage, or run up credit cards. It took an extreme amount of discipline, especially since I was so excited about the business and wanted to see it take off overnight. I was and continue to be bombarded with people trying to sell me expensive advertising, including banners on the top of high-traffic blogs/websites, deal of the day sites (which require you to significantly discount your products and also share the revenue), and pay per click arrangements. After doing a little dabbling and licking my wounds, I pulled back and realized that I could spend a tremendous amount of money, which I didn’t have, and not get worthwhile results.

What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

There are two places where I currently do paid advertising- Gifts.com and FindGift.com. They are both virtual shopping networks where people search for unique gifts. It is a pay-per-click environment where I have had a good sales conversion rate.

Everything else I do is free. The most important work I do to market my business is develop keyword rich content so that I place well with Google and the other search engines. The beauty of this work is that I don’t pay a thing for millions of potential customers to find and shop on my site. Also, I maintain a blog to drive traffic to my site as well as submit content to other blogs that then link back to my site. For my business, this is the best way to get word out without spending a small fortune.

What are some other interesting tidbits that you would like to share about your business experience?

There are so many interesting things that have happened along this journey. One story I love to share is about my biggest celebrity customer. Last holiday season I received several phone calls from a woman who wanted to place some orders on behalf of her boss. She asked a lot of detailed questions and it took her almost two weeks before she finally placed her order. We handled the transaction over the telephone and I did not have enough information to connect the dots until we got to the gift note which read “Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Love, Michael & Catherine Douglas”. I just love the fact that this small business I started from my kitchen table became the gift of choice for kids on Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ holiday list.

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