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After spending nearly 15 years with AT&T as a software developer/engineer and Program Manager for their Corporate Intranet, where I got hooked on the internet during the late 90’s, I “retired” to start Beacon Technologies during the dot-com craze. I wish I had a dollar for every person that said or thought “I’m going to open an online store and make a ton of money!” The ongoing belief was “Build it and they will come!” – a saying stolen from one of my favorite movies (“Field of Dreams” in case you are wondering).
Easy money, right? Absolutely! But let’s get on the same page here. It’s easy to spend money. Making money is an entirely different story. Okay. I’ll admit it. I said the same thing. After starting up Beacon in 1998 and spending 5 years helping other companies produce millions through the internet, I said, “Hey, why don’t we open an online store and make millions too?” We just had to pick something to sell, then, of course, we would make money hand-over-fist!
As a North Carolina company, we considered pottery, but we were worried about goods getting damaged during shipment. We considered kites, but worried about demand. Then THE product appeared one day while reading the local business journal – NASCAR Furniture. The sport and the industry have deep roots in NC. Better yet, we decided to go with leather NASCAR Furniture. High margin. Sell one or two a month and we’re good. We would use our own eCommerce engine, our own securely hosted data center, our own highly successful search engine marketing expertise and simply drop-ship the product to all those NASCAR fans anxious to buy our products. Like a lot of business ideas (especially back during the dot-com era), it seems like a no-brainer and too easy. Oh how naïve we were.
So, in November 2004, we launched RaceFanFurniture.com. In all seriousness, our primary motive was to create a “live” online store as a model, but hey, generating a little revenue would be gravy. We would operate the store to understand issues that our customers experience with our software services. This also gave us a site to implement and evaluate new features (including 3rd party extensions) before recommending them to our customers. It just made good business sense. But deep down, I also wanted the “easy money” too.
The site generated 70 orders in 2004; 533 in 2005; 2474 in 2006 and 8566 in 2007 after expanding the product line, revamping the site and changing the name to SportsNutShop.com. We are conservatively forecasting 24,000 orders this year. With this growth, you may say, “Well, it is easy!”. Not even close. Remember, although we have good business experience, we come from the IT world with very little experience in retail. We observed how our clients operated their online stores…but primarily from the technical perspective. There are many, many other factors and requirements that affect success.
Bottom line is that it’s not easy…to make money with an online store. It truly requires the same thought processes and business planning as a brick-and-mortar business. After 10 years of ecommerce support, I’ve learned a lot. I plan a series of posts to share some of this first-hand experience, primarily with specific examples from SportsNutShop. You may write off some of this advice to what I call the “Duh” factor, but there are so many components to a successful, smooth-running ecommerce business. So whether you are a rookie or a veteran in the ecommerce world, I sincerely hope you will find some “nuggets” that will make a difference. Some of the topics I plan to post about are below. Please let me know if there are other topics that you are interested in.