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Thread: Weekend Musings on my shop and career

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    Member Needs New Keyboard Array tallen's Avatar
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    So the images for shopping for products by type of animal on the home page shows a dog eating out of or playing with a spiral maze type of dog dish or toy -- but I searched through all the products for dogs and couldn't find that one at all. Also the navigation through the products was difficult to follow -- you "tagged" them into certain categories, but the menu to show tags did not stand out very well, and the categories didn't always make sense. Would I look for the spiral maze bowl toy thingy under bowls, toys, interactive, or what? In any case, I would take care to make sure that any products shown anywhere on your site have an entry in your inventory database and show up in your store even if out of stock, backordered, or discontinued....

    So all of this is just to concur with the other commentators that there is still some work that could be done to improve the shopping/ecommerce experience on your website. I would agree with the suggestion that maybe you could highlight a few select top-selling high-margin products on the front page (maybe could be a rotating selection?).

    In terms of brick and mortar vs. online, there's no reason you couldn't do both. This is a pet store near one of our businesses: Maine Made Pet Supplies | Boothbay Harbor, ME | Two Salty Dogs He's got a small shop, but a big presence in the community, and I guess also does a bit of business online too (not that his website is necessarily the best example of an online shop). His newsletters and blog are very humorous and often written from the perspective of one of his (now three) salty dogs, and he is a pretty creative marketer.

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    Wow, I miss a few days and my how this thread has grown.

    I'm no longer a designer, but I used to play one on TV or maybe that was in real life. I don't think the way you have things organized is bad. It's a common problem for any site with more than a handful of products. I think organizing at the top level around the different animals is the right way to go. There are other navigational systems you could use once you're in each category. One called, faceted navigation, might work better. That's where you'll have a bunch of checkboxes down the left so you can only show the products from a certain brand or below a certain cost. Here's how it looks on Walmart's page listing televisions.

    This might be the ex-web designer in me, but I can see where a designer could rework the site and improve it aesthetically in a way that helps direct visitors where they want to go and just makes everything on the site seem more appealing. If you do decide to invest more, that's something I would consider. You might want to spend a few nights searching Google for ecommerce design award or best designs in pet industry and similar just to see what others are doing.

    I'm not sure if anyone else brought this up, but is there a segment of the overall market you want to target? What do you want people to think about when they think about your company? The aesthetic of your site should be based on how you want your customer to see your business. There's a reason why Toys R' Us looks different from any banking site and the same rationale applies to different segments within a market.

    I've always thought pet sites are good candidates for building a community or potential customers. People love sharing images of their pets and talking about their pets. It'll take time to build up, but you could create areas of the site where people can contribute. They won't all be customers, but over time you can attract people to the site in general and most people tend to prefer doing business with people they know in some way. Someone who spends a couple hours a week on your site looking at images or sharing how they trained their dog is more likely to by from you than somewhere else.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SumpinSpecial View Post
    I'm already involved in all of those things on a very small level. I have some inventory (about 1/4 of my total products) that I manage, and I have done some logistics for the annual sales events I've done. Those are tiny granted, but they're a taste. (In fact, to blow my own horn for a moment, logistics and organization are one of my strong points. Even in my day job, I'm known as the most reliable and most organized person around, and I secretly grind my teeth as I have to watch my extremely disorganized boss and team lead try to figure out how to keep the team organized.)

    But what do you mean about expanding the business from the current channels? Selling on Amazon and/or ebay? Or something else?

    BTW, on a tangent, as I was telling my husband about the meeting, we looked up one of my products that is made by a small manufacturer and didn't used to be sold on Amazon. It is now. Amazon is selling it for $10 less than the price I paid. That's really irritating and I'm finding it more and more. The easy answer is that Amazon can buy in volume enough to get the very lowest wholesale price, but... this was a small manufacturer. I guess they found a way to increase their manufacturing output to be able to handle the volume. No idea.
    By existing channels I meant wherever you get your current monthly sales from - that would be your website I guess. If Amazon is already undercutting you on price then no point listing it there. Maybe you could try Ebay. In any case, don't let Amazon undercutting your price demoralize you - it is gonna continue to do that, to everyone. Set a goal - like doubling sales from your website - and stick to it. Amazon isn't eating into your volumes just yet. That's something to worry for the longer term, when you have hundreds of transactions a month.

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    Along the lines of what Vangogh suggested I would think adding a forum to your site as a way of building a community might be a good thing. It would let you get feedback as to what people would like you to add to your products, how they like your products and they could post photos of their pets and talk about things. There are a lot of pet forums but done properly it could be an asset. vBulletin like they use here has some cost but some forum software such as Simple Machines (SMF) is free and some hosting companies offer it as a pretty much one click install.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fulcrum View Post
    How's about a simple row on the front page that has your top 3 sellers (or highest margin with good sales) and a simple one click ordering direct to checkout? Ideally these would be high margin, high volume consumable items (natural dog food maybe that can be considered human consumption grade).

    With that said, focus on getting sales. Collect and study your sales metrics on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual basis. Refine and modify your product offerings based on what you find in the metrics (maybe one product sells in the winter but not in the summer so don't carry inventory during the slow time).
    Good feedback, everyone, thanks! This is all actionable (to use corporate-speak) and I can combine it with some of the advice from the SCORE mentor. Today I'm going to review the margins on my product line, get rid of the lowest margin things, and highlight the highest margin items on the front page like you describe here.

    In terms of sales metrics, I've been doing that. My sales are so low that it's easy. I sold more of the stuffed toys last year and more muzzles this year. That's because last year I marketed the stuffys and this year I've been marketing to greyhound people. Well, this year I've actually been trying to market the cat products and the dog puzzles also, but for some reason I'm only connecting with greyhound folks. Something to work on.

    Quote Originally Posted by tallen View Post
    So the images for shopping for products by type of animal on the home page shows a dog eating out of or playing with a spiral maze type of dog dish or toy -- but I searched through all the products for dogs and couldn't find that one at all. Also the navigation through the products was difficult to follow -- you "tagged" them into certain categories, but the menu to show tags did not stand out very well, and the categories didn't always make sense. Would I look for the spiral maze bowl toy thingy under bowls, toys, interactive, or what? In any case, I would take care to make sure that any products shown anywhere on your site have an entry in your inventory database and show up in your store even if out of stock, backordered, or discontinued....
    Ouch, this is totally my bad. Yeah, I discontinued that maze bowl. i'll replace that image with something that I actually do carry. I'll also try to sort out the product tags. It's kind of messy, I admit. I've noticed that when you're on a smart phone, the tag system jumps out to you first (and they're a real mess) but you have to search around to find the menus which are tidier. No excuses, though, I'll fix that. The site has to be 100% functional and easy to buy on smart phone. It was one of my must-have's from day one.

    Quote Originally Posted by vangogh View Post
    Wow, I miss a few days and my how this thread has grown.

    I'm no longer a designer, but I used to play one on TV or maybe that was in real life. I don't think the way you have things organized is bad. It's a common problem for any site with more than a handful of products. I think organizing at the top level around the different animals is the right way to go. There are other navigational systems you could use once you're in each category. One called, faceted navigation, might work better. That's where you'll have a bunch of checkboxes down the left so you can only show the products from a certain brand or below a certain cost. Here's how it looks on Walmart's page listing televisions.
    I'm glad everyone is chiming in here because I truly value the feedback! I considered switching to a theme that has the side checkbox navigation. Then I figured out that I could use nested menus on my current theme and set that idea aside. But you guys are right, this theme still isn't working as well as I need it to. I'll check out some of those websites on my phone to see how they work there, and switch my theme if it works well.

    Quote Originally Posted by vangogh View Post
    I've always thought pet sites are good candidates for building a community or potential customers. People love sharing images of their pets and talking about their pets. It'll take time to build up, but you could create areas of the site where people can contribute. They won't all be customers, but over time you can attract people to the site in general and most people tend to prefer doing business with people they know in some way. Someone who spends a couple hours a week on your site looking at images or sharing how they trained their dog is more likely to by from you than somewhere else.
    Yes, this is what I was trying to accomplish with the blog and the image of Capri on the front. I've actually been swapping that front page image every month or so, and tried asking through social media for people to give me their special pet stories and images. Only one person did so. I had her kitty up for a while but then had to swap it out for something new and here we are with my heart dog. But I didn't put her up because of what Harold implies below (although I realize it may look like it). It was more to try to inspire people to tell me their own stories that I can post. Trying to "build a tribe" as Seth Godin teaches. I don't think it's working, maybe because they have to email their stories to me rather than just posting them directly. Not sure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold Mansfield View Post
    I agree wholeheartedly. Your website is not for you. It's for customers. Put your personal stuff on an "About" page if people want to know who you are. But your job is to sell product and that's what your site should be doing above ALL else. Sales. Sales. Sales.

    Quote Originally Posted by WarrenD View Post
    By existing channels I meant wherever you get your current monthly sales from - that would be your website I guess. If Amazon is already undercutting you on price then no point listing it there. Maybe you could try Ebay. In any case, don't let Amazon undercutting your price demoralize you - it is gonna continue to do that, to everyone. Set a goal - like doubling sales from your website - and stick to it. Amazon isn't eating into your volumes just yet. That's something to worry for the longer term, when you have hundreds of transactions a month.
    Okay, gotcha. My current channels are my site and the occasional in-person sales events that I do. The problem with eBay is that since it's known as an auction and/or bargain hunting site, it's the wrong market demographic for me. While I do want my sales to increase, I don't want to become a volume commodity dealer. Everybody else is already doing that. The margins are razor thin. But I can increase my in person sales channel and I'm okay if over time that becomes my primary channel and my site becomes secondary.

    Thanks again, y'all! I'm getting to work!
    Sharon, Owner/Operator
    Something Special Pet Supplies

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    So over the weekend I made some changes to the site, primarily replacing the "shop dogs" etc images on the front page with featured products (high margin and/or good sellers). I also deleted some products that were low margin and never sold, although that's not visible to customers. I also finally made contact with the organizer of the indie arts market nearby and found that they have some openings for the dedicated vendors. (They have dedicated spots where you always go there to vend, or drop in vending spots. The problem with the drop-ins is that I'd have to load up the car with all my merchandise and tables and such and if they don't have space that day I'd have to turn around and bring it all home again.) So I've sent in the application for that, starting in a couple weeks. Every Saturday in-person vending should help me out a lot.

    BTW, one of the "homework assignments" that the SCORE mentor asked me to do is fill out a retail startup costs worksheet. He said to do it as if I was starting up today and going into a brick and mortar store. I was able to fill out the supplies and startup inventory sections, but have trouble with the capital expenses. Without actually approaching a realtor to shop for retail space, how can I estimate things like first month's rent, interior construction costs, signage, etc? Those would all depend on the size of the space I get.
    Sharon, Owner/Operator
    Something Special Pet Supplies

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    Another thought for you to consider. What if you got into a high quality organic pet food line. The plus to me would be that it could be repeat business rather than one time sales as you probably get a lot of now. Some products are pretty hard to find. This thought was started by knowing we have one of the most difficult dogs to own you could imagine. It basically is the pickiest eater I have ever seen. The only thing it would eat in the past was a special chicken/rice/apple concoction my wife makes but we did just find a dry food she will eat but we have to drive 40 miles to get it. My wife plans to try to find a place to buy it online. I thought about you and thought it might be a good addition to your line. Of course the negative side might be that it could have a shelf life. Just thought I would throw that out.
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