May 2008

Does Your Small Business’ Inventory Sustain Customers?

Does Your Small Business' Inventory Sustain Customers?A new Cre8asite Forums’ member, JoeD, has started a very interesting thread regarding achieving conversions for small business clients in which he asks:

“Ask your non-seo friends to list the places they’ve shopped at online. See if you can find a mom and pop level business that they bought from? If so, what percentage of the list is mom and pop?

I’m going to try this myself, but used this question to illustrate to a client of mine today who wanted to know how to convert sales. I asked her how many times she bought something online from an outlet of her size and she said Zero… Amazon, yes. Major fashion outlets, Yes. Mom and Pop, none.”

Great responses have followed, and I recommend Small Business and Local SEOs check it out. I’d like to add a related but different thought to the pot here.

In my experience, women in my mother’s age group (50s-60s) do develop loyalty to small business websites. This occurs when the small business offers something the customer has been eagerly searching for and having trouble finding anywhere – an ‘it’ factor. When my mother finds ‘it’ on a Mom-and-Pop site, the first thing she does after buying the product is to tell me to go look at the website. She’s excited, and from then on, thinks of that business as a great find.

But, here’s the problem. Once a customer buys ‘it’ from your small business, what else is there for them to do?

Case in point:
In our continuing quest for greater sustainability of our own, my husband and I have started baking our own bread. With store-bought bread at nearly $4.00 a loaf now, we’re not only saving a bundle by baking our own, but we’re also eating some mighty tasty sandwiches around the SEOigloo now. Mix up a batch, call three clients while the dough rises, knead the dough, design a homepage layout while it rises again, answer evening emails during the third rise, and write a blog post while it bakes. SEO and bread baking are a match made in heaven!

Our decision to start baking our own bread sent me on a search for the perfect loaf pans. I needed them to be:

  • Non-toxic – no aluminum or teflon coating
  • Made in the USA
  • Reasonably priced

Internet searches and word-of-mouth recommendations from loved ones resulted in my discovery that GraniteWare was my perfect solution. GraniteWare is that dark, speckled enamel-coated bakeware you might remember from camping. It’s been made in the USA for at least a century and is quite inexpensive. It sounded great, but I discovered it was hard to find. The manufacturer’s site has no e-commerce option (how silly is that?) and Google was providing slim pickings. Then, I discovered Lehmans.com. Their website design looks a little funky in Firefox, but they’ve got tons of GraniteWare and had the exact loaf pans I was looking for. I ordered 2, got them in an admirably short time and am very happy with their performance.

But Now That I Have My Loaf Pans, Why Would I Shop At Lehman’s Again?
Unless a small business is selling something perishable like food, candles, soap, clothing, etc., the loyalty earned by providing ‘it’ gains only a one-time transaction for Mom & Pop. Barring an unforeseen disaster in the kitchen, I won’t be needing to buy any more loaf pans for years. A business like Lehman’s is going to have a hard time surviving if they depend solely on unique sales rather than sustaining repeat business so that subsequent sales are won from already-satisfied customers.

How do you get those subsequent sales? The answer lies in your inventory and your customers’ lives. Lehman’s needs to try to figure out who I am – this woman who bought loaf pans – and what lifestyle I am living that brought me to their door. If they had access to my short bulleted list, above, they’d have some very good clues.

I’m a woman looking for non-toxic products. This means I’d probably be interested in a non-toxic products section at Lehman’s. This might include anything from GMO-free garden seeds to organic fabric.

I’m a woman looking for Made In the USA products, endeavoring to support domestic industry. This preference in combination with my desire for non-toxic bakeware would make it a pretty safe bet that I may be the type of customer who is worried about the news of poisonous imports from countries like China. Lehman’s could respond to this concern not only with a Made-in-the-USA category, but also blog posts that address my worries about imported inventory.

I’m looking for a fair deal. As a relatively young housekeeper, I’m not at the point in life that I’m ready to invest hundreds of dollars in master-chef-level kitchenware. Can Lehman’s find other products that, like the GraniteWare, answer my needs but don’t break my bank? They should certainly try.

I Think Lehman’s Is Onto Me
Further exploration of this interesting little website reveals that they do have other products I might be interested in future. They’ve got a great setup for canning your own jam. Some day, I may have the orchard I dream of, and my good experience with the loaf pans could lead me back to Lehman’s. They do have an American-made category! I think it needs to be a little more visible in the design, because I didn’t notice it on my first visit. And, while I’m not so far off the grid at this point in life that I’m going to invest in a composting toilet, (ehrm…I’m not really sure I ever want to reach that point) I think this company is making good efforts to sustain the interest of a customer like myself who is trying to apply green principles to daily living. Since my purchase, I’ve already told two people about Lehman’s and now I’m telling all of you. How’s that for loyalty?

Going One Step Further
Though they’ve got an email list opt-in, I don’t see a blog on this site. Unless I’ve missed it, this should be Lehman’s next step. Hire a couple of bloggers who know everything about natural living and farming and put them to work writing about anything they can discover the customer base is interested in. Most important of all, start asking the customer, directly, exactly what else they’d love to see at Lehman’s. They could so easily do this.

And, if you’re a small business owner, so could you!

Sustaining your customers means really getting to know them, really coming to understand where they are heading in their lives right now that would bring them back to your website for a wider circle of needs. It’s probably not practical to employ people to phone each and every customer to speak with them directly (although I’d love to see how this would play out) but a blog provides the place for a community to form around the goodness of your business. I had to do a lot of searching to find Lehman’s. Rather than counting on someone new to make those efforts for the next sale, how smart they’d be to keep me shopping with them, since the effort has already been made to win my business.

Your customers are the reason your business exists. Find out what they want.

Time to go take the bread out of the oven.

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* Above photo by Munir

Links And Better Things Come When People Care

Over the past few months, my personal time has been absorbed by a grass roots movement in which I have become deeply involved here in California. The importance of the issue has impelled me to use every skill I possess as a writer, an artist, a graphic designer, an SEO, a marketer. I think the experience I am having in this pursuit is worth sharing.

I remember first learning about the importance of link acquisition as a brand new SEO. I had a vague idea that I would be writing to related businesses and asking them nicely to link to whatever website I was working on. The trouble was, the first projects I was asked to do this on were not being run by businesses who had invested the time to create content worth linking to. Can you imagine a scenario more doomed to fail than giving a new SEO the task of getting links to a website that features nothing but sales pages of 300 pond filters?

Dear So-and-So,
We just love the koi fish you sell and wanted to let you know that we sell pond filters. We’ve linked to your website from ours and would be so pleased if you would consider….

Heaven help us!

About the time that top SEOs started proclaiming that Content is King, I started to understand that what was getting in the way of acquiring valuable links was the artifice of the situations I found myself commonly in – begging for links to unworthy pages from businesses with something better to do with their time. Over the past couple of years, all good SEOs have experienced the difference great content makes, but in my current involvement with my socio-political project, I am seeing something beyond this.

I am seeing what a difference personal involvement makes. When an issue – be it negative like climate change, the housing crisis, honeybee colony collapse, childhood disease, or positive like organic farming, sustainability, literacy education, greening the home, elder advocacy – is deeply affecting people’s lives, the energy, generosity and spirit of sharing that evolves is unlike anything else I’ve encountered as an SEO. Far from being a case of pleading for links, the connections made in these on-line interactions have real-world impacts that forge bonds, build communication and advance whatever cause is at hand.

I have been authoring the most active blog on the web on my particular subject for the past 2 months – just 2 months. In a couple of weeks’ time, the materials I’ve created have been discovered and used in the following ways:

On community pamphlets and fliers
In scientific reports and research documents
On blogs
On websites
In a series of e-cards
In newspapers
On film

I have been incredibly honored to make personal connections with:

Scientists
Doctors
Journalists
Bloggers
Editors
Major Media
Politicians
Community

I’ve been able to act as both an information resource as well as a liaison between interested parties, facilitating new important relationships between people who can help one another. A secondary good is the fact that my blog has now been linked to, unasked, by every major entity involved in this project as well as by multiple media sources. Why is it secondary? Because the actual work being done is certainly more important than the prestige of the Google rankings that come from such excellent links. Still, the links are something to be very thankful for as their influence is making it ever easier for my materials to be found by people who need them.

It is amazing to me that a single blog is capable of accomplishing this much in a couple of months’ time. And, I feel it’s worth sharing this summary because it demonstrates how much you can accomplish when your subject is strong enough that all concern for the wheedling of links for rankings and traffic goes by the wayside. Because of my profession, I can’t help approaching any web endeavor like an SEO, but here, my passion and purpose are so personal that I have simply worked like crazy and felt grateful for the response my blog is receiving.

Working for non-profit or special interest groups is a field of its own. I am convinced that the web is providing an incredible place for caring and dedicated people to make a powerhouse difference in the world. The steps between bright idea and viral domino effect require only concerted effort.

The web can lead to artificial situations on so many levels as we struggle with the proposition that there are real people on the other side of the screen. Now, I have begun to see that the more the web, and the job of the SEO, is viewed as real life, the more naturally really good work will take place, the more powerful and effective our efforts can be, the more impact those efforts can have on our lives outside the web.