When you hear the word eCommerce, you likely think one of two things. You think of the online Superstores that are trying to compete with ‘everything local’ OR you think of some guy (or gal) hanging out in their pajamas pretending to be legitimate business. You shop at the first at the expense of small business and when you shop at the second you are concerned just how small they really are and if you are like me you probably wonder if your credit card information is safe.
We have plenty of competition that falls into those categories. So what makes us different?
First and foremost, let me say that we are a real company with real employees and a real location. We have state of the art technology to protect your privacy and we have first class people that power that technology — on the sales side and on the programming side. We never store your credit card data and our website is scanned daily to make sure it is PCI compliant and safe from hackers. In my book, that is just a starting point. That still does not qualify my company to earn your business.
Its our people and what we/theyÂ do. We are a very ‘traditional’ company who happens to sell online. While the ‘trend’, even in retail, is to get people to ‘help themselves’ we believe the power of small business and especially the power of niche small business online is to… wait for it… Actually help our customers!
We have a core belief that we should be experts in the field and walk our customers through the process. In many cases this is counter intuitive to what they teach. Instead of pushing you to make a purchase quickly, we like to slow you down, ask how you are using our products and in many cases get you some free samples to look at before you make a purchase. This is the way I was taught business was done. When someone came into my Grandfather’s lumberyard, you would help them at the counter then walk them out and make sure they got the best material — a far cry from an orange cart and self checkout. In many cases, first, we would help them figure out what it was they really wanted.
When a customer has a floor plan that they are not sure how to cover, I believe it is our job to help them figure it out. When they need to know what adhesive is best, even when it does not come from us, that is our job too. Turning down sales that do not make sense for the customer, that is more than our job, it is or responsibility!
My goal, as a business owner who happens to sell online is to take the feel of a traditional small business and bring it online. We do that by building strong relationships with our customers, and our vendors. That leads into the second part of the equation:
You can’t have a strong relationship with your customers if they are not getting a great product at a fair price. That means we have to do everything above, while selling a large amount of product and maintaining leverage in the industry.
We have a containment mat that we buy for considerably less than anyone else. We have a carpet mat that we do the same. We bring in large amounts of inventory, we visit with our vendors, and we do everything we can to avoid inventory running out.
We recently had a five-fold increase in sales in a specific line. That lead to shortages in-house and at their plant. Because of the mutual respect we had for each other, we worked together to fill the sales and never went into a back-order situation. Companies much much larger than us were cut off so our sales could be filled. Why? We committed to stocking the product for one and we have a face to face, long term relationship with the supplier — You know just like a small business is supposed to!
On another line we did get into a back-order situation. As the inventory comes available they are shipping it by the pallet to us. Why? We sell more, we handle our own returns and we keep the product on hand and don’t expect them to be our order fulfillment. In short, we take care of the customer and we take care of them.
We don’t have a ‘marketing department,’ no janitor or cleaning company, and believe it or not the ‘head of our shipping department ‘Â is writing this blog post.Â What we do have is a core group of dedicated individuals who are empowered to work with customers and suppliers alike. We have a web team (I am on that one too) that is second to none, mostly because our developer is amazing — as a side note, he is also an American, based in the US and a full-time salaried employee.
Our social media…. That is myself and one other employee responding directly to our customers. Not a social media company and not a guy hired to do marketing — because we thought SOCIAL media was supposed to be SOCIAL. 🙂
All of this comes together and give you the customer, or even you the vendor, the best of both worlds. You are dealing with a small business. A very niche small business that knows the product they sell. But you are dealing with a small business that for many of our vendors is the largest independent customer — and for our key vendors we outsell the big guys. Bottom line you get the best of both worlds.
That is my unedited, say it how it is basic business model. It’s very simple, but it’s very different from where the online market has gone in recent years.
Let me take this opportunity to make one semi-political comment. Our congress has made several attempts in the last couple of years to pass the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act. It would hold a business like mine to the same standards as big business that has locations across the country — and to a different standard than the average business owner on Main Street. It would force us to be a company centered around taxes and accounting and cost us tens of thousands of dollars to implement. We have no interest in taking Main Street’s business. In fact we just purchased our corporate gifts downtown. But, small business online will never be able to compete if it is held to the same standards as the big box stores. The standard needs to be what it has always been. Physical presence.