Categorized | Shoestring Startup

A Couple Pokemon Blankets

Name of your company and URL?

Keepsakes Etc – www.keepsakes-etc.com

Simply Bags – www.simply-bags.com

Date started?

1999

What is your product or service?

Keepsakes Etc – features themed throw blankets, wall tapestries, faux fur blankets, and photo throws.

Simply Bags – Specializes in embroidered tote bags.

A Couple Pokemon Blankets Why did you start your company?

We owned and operated two mall gift stores. Small business owners were very prominent in malls in the 80’s and 90’s. Increasing rent and a decline in traffic has driven many family owned businesses out. In the late 90’s eCommerce was becoming an acceptable method of buying products and services. We saw a potential to market to everyone in the US versus just our own town.

We closed both stores and developed the Keepsakes Etc website. We ran the business from our home.

In late 1999 we purchased several lines of Licensed Blankets - Pokeman, Tiger Woods, MLB, and the WWF. These products took off and we moved into our warehouse in the January 2000. A Pokemon Blanket was the beginning of a REAL internet business.

How was it financed?

We have always been very conservative in our approach to business risk. Our first stock was left over inventory from our mall stores and our first eCommerce warehouse was our basement.

eCommerce allows a “Grow As you Go” model and we have taken advantage of this. We like to stock everything we sell in our warehouse, this gives us the ability to ensure quality products and on time delivery. However; on many occasions we will utilize vendor drop ship programs to test a new market without actually buying stock for the entire line. We will know our ROI before we spend a dime.

Date officially launched?

We officially opened the Keepsakes Etc website on August 8, 1999 and started Simply Bags July 29, 2007. Having two separate websites with completely different product lines helps level business demand through out the year.

What free online or offline tools do you use?

Free software is fantastic. At the beginning we purchase a suite of office products for each PC in the warehouse and our home office. As our business grew this was getting expense. Google docs have improved and are we are migrating to that solution.

The functionality of GMAIL is great and this is my only mail solution. Accessing your mail in the cloud and controlling spam from one location is fantastic.

UPS World ship is absolutely great and free. It links directly into order management system and order tracking is easy. Wish USPS would catch up.

Other free tools we use Google Analytics, WordPress, Pixlr, social networking tools.

Do you use Social Media tools like Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn or ?

Simply bags has over 6,000 followers https://twitter.com/#!/SimplyBags

Google+ about 475 followers – Google+ has now started to influence search engine results and is headed to be the most important social platform available.

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

We have 7 employees and outsource some IT development projects

What is the best advice you never got?

Appreciate what you have, spend less, and make more. I heard this about a year ago and it is a simple approach to living an uncomplicated life.

What almost killed your business in the start?

Not aware of any potential disasters that would kill or business.

What is the one thing that you did right?

Before we launched our first website, we developed a comprehensive strategic business plan. This helped us see our future direction and develop detailed initiatives to achieve measurable goals. We still review the plan quarterly.

The following website metrics that we developed in our first planning session are still active today:

  • Unique Visitors – Overall popularity of business
  • Page Views (per visit) – Indication of whether we are attracting the right customers
  • Bounce Rate – Measurement of Keyword selection
  • Conversions – Measurement of how good our products are – this is the most important metric of all. We can do everything great, but when it comes to clicking the ORDER BUTTON its all about the product.
  • Inbound Links – Quality only – we never measure quantity. A good link sends converting customers directly from the linked site.
  • Returning Visitors – We break this down into segments that represent different sub markets.

We also have traditional business metrics that we track such as: customer feedback, inventory turns, cash flow, revenue, etc..

A Couple Pokemon BlanketsWhat was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

Moving from a traditional brick and mortar store to an internet site was somewhat easy. eCommerce is a real business and requires the same basic business skills that we used throughout our entire work life. You must start with a solid strategic business plan and have a working knowledge of business processes such as: accounting, payroll, quality control, inventory control, HRM, order management.

Are you currently in the black or red?

Black

What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

Google, Bing, Yahoo organic and PPC

Facebook ads

Twitter – Tweets

Direct Mail

What would make your business more “Successful”?

eCommerce is no longer a secret and competition is fierce. The major brands are firmly placed in the search engines and in the large social media properties. The biggest challenge for Small eCommerce sites is the loss of organic traffic from Google.

The Panda Algorithm change clearly favors Large Brand Stores over Small Business.

Keepsakes Etc is the largest internet provider of Throw Blankets and has ranked #1 & #2 in Google Search results for the Keyword “Throw Blanket” for many years.

Currently the top 10 results for “throw blankets”

  1. Overstock
  2. Wal-Mart
  3. Amazon
  4. Macy’s
  5. Pottery Barn
  6. Ralph Lauren
  7. Keepsakes Etc – Below the fold and not seen by the consumer
  8. Bed Bath & Beyond
  9. Target
  10. Ikea

In addition to large brand competition, eCommerce sales are not increasing at double digit rates as they did for the last 10 years. The market has plateaued and small businesses will need to reevaluate every aspect of their business. I believe the future will be very small niches markets with “GOT TO HAVE” products.

The entry point to converting visitors will no longer be organic search engine tariff from Google, Bing and Yahoo. For the last ten years this traffic was FREE and very easy to acquire. The future entry point to buying website customers will be the through social media platforms. Every 24 hours over billion items are shared on Facebook and three billion videos watched on YouTube.

The period of being successful in the eCommerce arena with and an average site and commodity type products is over.

Would you want to be acquired by a bigger company, run it yourself or sell in a couple of years?

I love working in eCommerce and can’t wait to face the challenges and opportunities that are ahead.

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