Two “e-Tailers” Offer Web Retailing Thoughts and Advice
By Michael Carmichael
May 7, 2009
Selling stuff on the Web is so easy even a kid could do it - well, one kid anyway. Meet Hannah, of HannahsCoolWorld.com. An 8-year-old CEO.
Hannah’s parents, Lauren and Rick Altman started the ball rolling with CoolZips.com. a little over a year ago. How did it happen, Corp! asked Hannah’s mom Lauren. “I wanted to create a zipper pull to go on my husband Rick’s fleece pullover that he lives in during the winter months,” she explained. “When I told him my idea, Hannah said she wanted to make one too and that we should make a bunch of them to sell. She wanted to create a company and proceeded to write down ideas for a company name,”
Altman continued. “When she came up with CoolZip, Rick checked the domain availability and it was taken. So we added an ‘s’ to have CoolZips and www.CoolZips.com was launched. Keep in mind that all of this transpired within a few hours’ time at the kitchen table. “
On the web site your dog Joey seems to take all of the credit. What’s the real story, Corp! asked. “Joey was instrumental in the development of CoolZips,” answered Altman, a resident of suburban Oakland County, Mich. “His loving nature and continuous support helped bring out the best in each of us during the creative process. I think that the publicity campaign that he produced [his YouTube video has had over 500 hits], in which he claims CoolZips was solely his idea, was done during a phase when we were spending too much time on business and not enough time taking him for long walks,” she explained.
Altman went on to describe the process of getting from idea to market. “We made a family visit to a few craft shops and started looking for beads, charms, and ideas to create zipper pulls to attach to jackets, sweaters, etc.,” Altman said. “We made various prototypes using many different components to put together a durable and quality product. Hannah helped select charm and bead designs and, during this time, Rick used his web development know-how to create the look and feel of the web site and optimize Google Adwords to get the word out.”
Are all of the CoolZips made at your kitchen table, Corp! asked.”We tried desperately to manufacture the zipper pulls in the states,” Altman continued, “but the costs were just too prohibitive. Rick’s nephew, who manages an import business in Philadelphia, located a manufacturer in China and we took the next leap into CoolZips,” she said. Costs for making the products would have been 10 times higher using domestic suppliers, but Altman says that she uses local suppliers for some additional products as well as marketing, packaging, sales and shipping.
The Creation of Hannah’s Cool World
Corp! asked how Hannah decided to strike out on her own. Altman replied, “One night, back in November 2008, we were at a restaurant and Hannah wanted to buy a toy from a vending machine. Our first reaction was, ‘No. Don’t waste the money!’ But after putting up a fuss, we caved in and she bought three things; little animal pencil toppers that kids call squishies.”
“When she brought them to school the next day,” Altman continued, “a few other kids had them, too. Over the next week, I heard kids talking about these vending items non-stop. Hannah said she wanted another business, and this one to be her own. She worked her creative genius and came up with HannahsCoolWorld.com and Rick and Hannah designed her web site.”
How did she do? “In a few weeks time,” reported Altman, “HannahsCoolWorld.com sold over 10,000 squishies and the steady flow has continued. Both HannahsCoolWorld.com and CoolZips.com average about 300 visitors a day and are growing. “
With that background Corp! talked to 8-year-old Hannah herself. It proved to be an interesting experience.
Corp!: How’s school? What are you studying?
Hannah: Multiplication. We’re multiplying 9s and 10s.
Corp!: It’s good to know about numbers when you’re in business.
Corp!: How did you and Joey come up with the idea for Hannah’s Cool World?
Hannah: I saw some (squishies) in school and I wanted to have a business and sell them. And my parents said yes.
Corp!: What do the kids at school think of you as a business person?
Hannah: They think it’s really cool that I get to sell the squishies.
Corp!: Do they buy them from you or do you give them to them?
Hannah: They buy them from us.
Corp!: I understand that you can sell the squishies as a fund-raiser for schools and Girl Scouts and other groups.
Corp!: Do you hear from kids in other parts of the country?
Hannah: Oh yes.
Corp!: What do they tell you about the squishies and other things in Hannah’s Cool World?
Hannah: They say that they like them a lot and we should have a lot more animals, so we’re getting more in.
Corp!: Do you have a favorite?
Hannah: Cookie the Cow.
Corp!: Do you come up ideas for new animals?
Hannah: Yes. I name them all, too.
Corp!: Will you be adding a Portuguese water dog, like the President’s girls have?
Corp!: Do you think you’ll keep on doing Hannah’s Cool World as you grow older?
Hannah: I really like to do it.
Corp!: We hope it continues to be successful and grow and puts you through college - and we’re sure your Mom and Dad do too.
Mom, Lauren adds a final piece of advice to young - or not-so-young - web-preneurs: “Without Google adwords and kid-to-kid and mom-to-mom word of mouth, we would not have a business. We have created a successful business where parents can buy their kids items they want for only a few dollars. Prices on Hannah’s Cool World range from fifty cents to $12 and we offer a flat-rate shipping of $2.49 whether you buy 50 cents worth or $50 worth.”
The Voice of Experience
OrnamentShop.com has been in business 11 years. Owner Dianne Weller has a long history in retail, initially “doing the circuit” of major charity fund-raising gift shows, including the Jr. League show in Chicago and Giftorama for the Kingswood Alumnae Association, held in the Saarinen-designed Kingswood School/Cranbrook. Her husband Russell would often take time off from his advertising sales firm to help out.
Initially, her effort was called Whiffs and she sold smell-alike fragrances. That evolved over time to include whimsical log animals and then personalized Christmas ornaments. Eventually the ornament side of the business predominated and, 11 years ago, she and her husband went online with OrnamentShop.com.
Now, with more than 2,000 different ornaments and other collectibles that commemorate almost every occasion imaginable from Christmas to teacher gifts, weddings, anniversaries and graduation, OrnamentShop.com is the highest-ranked “personalized ornament” site on the Web. There is no brick-and-mortar store, but Weller has maintained a fleet of seasonal kiosks in selected shopping malls in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
How’s business in this economy, she’s asked. “Since January,” she replied, “we’ve been about even with last year, which is pretty darn good. We actually have a larger number of orders, but the number of items per order is down. Our price-points work well for people, today especially.”
Do you get many leads for the online operation from kiosk customers, Corp! asks. Weller pauses, “That’s hard to track, but the kiosks do get the products out there from October 15 to the day after Christmas for people to enjoy and we do think many of them visit us online at other times. And, the kiosks are good revenue producers.”
With a full-time staff of five, OrnamentShop.com ramps up during the holiday season to a total of 45 in the warehouse and another 75 in the kiosk operation. “A lot of our people come back every year,” Weller comments, “which is wonderful. It’s sort of like a family reunion at Christmastime.”
The key to her success? “Most of our visitors come to us from search engine optimization [SEO],” she says. “Our SEO marketing firm does a great job for us. They’ve worked very closely with us to add more descriptive copy, a history of ornaments and a trivia game, and other things that help keep us on top of the rankings,” she continues. “They make suggestions, we make suggestions - it’s a good team effort. That’s important, too.”
Advice for prospective “e-tailers”? Weller is asked if she has any words of wisdom for start-up web marketers? “It takes a lot more time and a lot more money than just getting your site up” she says with a laugh. “If you don’t do the marketing it’s worthless. I think a lot of people say ‘I’ve got a web site, World! Come buy stuff.’ But,” she cautions, “I know that there are more than 500,000 web sites that have Christmas Ornaments listed on their site somewhere. And most of them would like to be up top in the listings because most people don’t look past the first page in a search. If you can’t be on that first page, you’re not going to have the hits and not be able to show what you have. For every step that you’re down from that first listing you’re down a considerable percentage in sales. There have been many studies that show this,” Weller concludes.
The takeaway? Whether it’s kid-to-kid, mom-to-mom or Google adwords, if you want to be successful on the web you’ve got to get noticed by a whole lot of people.