Q: I heard that online businesses were a fad and that in time physical storefronts will emerge on top again.
A: Ask your local travel agent what they think of it being a fad !!
Online stores are more popular than ever before, as a matter of fact, I was working on a deal with a large franchise department store (hint: starts with a big red "K") and they told me that they are looking to not only expand their online business, but to do MORE business online than they do in their box stores. That really says something, especially when you look at who owns them.
There are many similarities in opening a storefront and an online store. There's the initial investment, product, marketing, advertising, website design, computers, etc. One of the differences between the two is that you can open your doors to the world with an online store much quicker than you can a storefront. And, I do mean to the WORLD. Our online digitizing business has serviced almost all the 50 states, 2 US territories, 2 countries within the UK and patch factories in China, of all places. I would never be able to do that from our storefront in Celebration, FL.
Online businesses do, however, seem to run a bit more lean than a storefront can afford to. For example, I used to have 5 t-shirt kiosks in a major tourist mall in Orlando, and on the weekends when our stock was busting out of the kiosks, we had banner sales days. Then Monday would come, we would do inventory, order shirts, embroider or screen print them and fill the shelves again on Wednesday .. do I have to tell you what our Monday and Tuesday sales were? You guessed it, down in the dumps. There's a perception at work in selling to the public .. they see a cart in the middle of a mall hallway filled with product that is beautifully merchandised, and they are drawn to it, but, when the cupboards were bare, so were the sales. Online stores have the benefit of LOOKING stuffed, when in fact, they may drop ship their product from a distributors warehouse upon each online sale. No one has to know how large or small your company is. No one has to know your physical hours, either. Many designs from my west coast customers come in when I'm eating dinner here on the east coast; we get to work the next day, tackle the designs while they are still sleeping or just waking up .. it's a beautiful process. No customers know if it was me, or Sal, or Mike, or Paul that digitized their logo, they just know that the process was seamless and they got what they paid for.
However, you still have to be careful for certain things when running an online business. There used to be a commercial that ran when I was watching my pathetic Cleveland Indians that showed 4-5 colleagues all geeked-up about their new online business venture, they huddled around the computer just as their site was about to go live, and BAM, a sale .. how excited they were. Then another, and another, and another .. and, then 1000 and then 1000 more .. so many sales that they failed because they didn't plan for that type of online success .. WELL, I'm hear to tell you that it doesn't happen exactly like that. Just because you open an online store, or blog, or personal page it doesn't mean you're going to be the next "Subway Jared." Advertising is expensive and time consuming. If no one knows you exist in cyberspace, do they hear the tree fall? When you walked into the mall, there were 5 t-shirt stores that competed with each other, in cyberspace, there are millions all over the country and world .. YOU can't grow a business if no one can find you. You have to differentiate your store from the rest of the pack, and that takes some specialized know-how. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a great tool for making your site appear first on the search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN Live, etc.). In order to grow and survive, you need to appear on the first page of the search engine sites if your means of advertising is only online efforts. We believe our digitizing business has an advertising edge because I travel to 8 trade shows each year where I meet hundreds of people at each show, speak at 10 events each year, write blogs like this for Ann the Gran, and we are active on embroidery lists where we cultivate business by helping others and showing our knowledge and expertise. So, you may not see us on the first pages of the search engines, but, we take a different advertising route.
I probably wouldn't have brought this up here, but, the grief I just went through, I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy (if I had any!). Choose a quality hosting company. Visit them. See where they store their servers. Believe me, these server companies are more secure than Fort Knox. These buildings are lightening proof, earthquake proof, fire proof, flood proof, bug proof .. A techie might say, "my site is on rackspace that is main-piped to the net." What that means is that their website files are on a secure server that is directly linked to the internet. Imagine the internet as a large pipe that stretches from Washington D.C. to San Francisco, and smaller pipes tap into it that feed to each state, and then smaller pipes tap into the state pipes that feed major cities and their surrounding areas. Luckily, all the "pipes" are so large, that, today, there is little if any wait time when you send an email, instant message, or upload an order to your favorite digitizing site.
Due to our customer size now, I just had to purchase our own server that I keep at a facility in Orlando where I rent rack space. They keep the server for me connected to the internet with a guaranteed 99.999% "up" rate (they almost guarantee their connection will never be down). They love my server as if it were their own. They feed it, water it, keep it clean and out of harm's way .. all for the price of a small fortune, but, it is worth it. Your site, is your life and your server and hosting company are your life lines. If they fail, you are OUT OF BUSINESS. We started to migrate our site from our old server to the new one on Friday night before Easter, it wasn't done until Tuesday morning .. I was OUT OF BUSINESS that whole time.
Lessons to take away from this article:
1. Don't skimp on your hosting company, server, web site designer or all-in-one site package.
2. Seperate yourself from the crowd by having a killer website that is easy to use.
3. Get found on the internet by SEO or other advertising means.
4. Lastly, come up with a short domain name that states what you do, take it from Mr. www.inhousedigitizing.com that long names are a pain to get customers to the first time.
Good luck with your online business .. it was not just a smart move for us, but, a saving grace for our business as a whole.
Rick Macali / 407 509-2400
www.embdesignsnow.com <-- coming soon to include stock designs, digitizing training and much more