I'm Jill Ehrlich and I have a brick and mortar store that I operate two days a week during the Amish Market in Pennsylvania. I also operate my own e-commerce website from our HQ in Wilmington, Delaware - and I use the OpenSky Platform too!
Getting Started Online
Lulu's got its start almost as a hobby for me. I had grown up working in retail in my father's chain of Retail Lighting Stores but I then got into a career in Human Capital Management. About ten years ago, I left that work and began importing handbags and selling them online. Things went so well that I decided to pursue it more seriously founding LuLu's online in 2003. I built my own site on Yahoo. At the time there were less off-the-shelf e-commerce sites available but with my tech background, I felt confident enough to make it happen.
I think the thing I love the most about the online environment is that it is so flexible. With a brick and mortar store, it can be hard, time-consuming and expensive to make sure your stock and environment are reflective of the latest trends. Online I can play with themes and make sure that when Fall comes, my site and my stock are reflective of the latest trends in no time at all.
Getting Customers Online
Customer acquisition is also more flexible when you're online. In literally thirty seconds you can figure out a new keyword that will pull in a new customer on any particular day. E-commerce is, however, incredibly competitive. When you type in 'Fall Scarf' into Google, imagine how many people want to be at the top of the results for that search? You have to be creative and flexible with sourcing traffic, especially if you're using your own site rather than something like OpenSky.
Keeping Customers Coming Back
I like to inject my personality into the online space using Social Media. For example, one day I came in and saw my dog curled up on one of our scarves. I put a quick snap on our Facebook page and it ended up being a really successful post. That kind of thing creates a sense that there is a real individual behind this business. It's about taking a customer and engaging them so your brand becomes less like a faceless vendor and more like a trusted friend.
We are a pretty small business and we know that sometimes we are going to make mistakes. However, we also know that the benefit of our small size is a personal relationship. We don’t have rigid 'company policies', so when a customer needs help, we can be reasonable and flexible. Companies at scale need those fixed rules and processes but we can bend to fit the individual needs of each customer.
Using OpenSky to drive sales and build a following
Discovering OpenSky has been a huge boost for my business. Because they host a wide range of goods, they get a lot of web traffic. As a result, if OpenSky promotes one of our products to their whole audience, we know we’re going to see a huge spike in interest. It’s a very powerful platform. In fact, I actually get up every morning at 6.30 and the first thing I check is to see if we’re featured on the homepage because I know it's going to be a busy day if we are!
Building a Following
OpenSky has definitely helped me to reach new customers and build a new online following. I know a huge number of my brick and mortar customers by name. I always remember when they were in the store last and what they bought. We chat all the time and I often joke that I know when all the women in town are pregnant before their husbands. It’s exactly that kind of close relationship and tight-knit community that I want to reproduce online. OpenSky is the perfect place to make that happen.
The Good and The Bad of going of using a Third Party E-Commerce Platform
One piece of advice I would give is to be careful to ensure you are running a diversified business. On a few occasions, I have gone ‘all-in’ pursuing a particular online sales channel only for circumstances to change and the sales to fall off a cliff. For example, very recently I started using a E-commerce plugin for Facebook that proved really successful. In fact, I was getting such a high volume of demand that I employed someone pretty much full time to run things. Of course, almost as soon as I had done that, Facebook changed something in their Terms and Conditions and the demand disappeared. I think part of the lesson here is not to put your eggs in someone else's basket.
It's really important to take advantage of the diverse range of e-commerce opportunities out there. When one business struggles, you have another revenue stream to keep things going. The key is to learn about which channels and which strategies are working for you and which aren't. I've been lucky enough that when my brick and mortar store has struggled, i’ve been able to rely on the online business. It’s nice to have that sense of having options.