A Frederick-based company - Charlotte's Cottage Quilt Shop- flipped the modern business narrative and added a Brick and Mortar component to their existing E-Commerce.
After seven years in business online, Sue Richter bought a physical location for her Quilt Shop in Walkersville and, just this June, moved to her dream location on Shab Row. We asked Sue to share her unique experience with both business models.
How did you get your start?
After I "retired" from my work as a pre-school director, I wanted something to do. I saw an opening in the market and decided to transition my family's tradition of sewing, knitting, and quilting into a business. I had my eyes set on exhibiting at an upcoming tradeshow in Houston - the Quilt Market. Going online was certainly the fastest way to get started. In under four weeks, I'd found a website template to use, was set-up as a formal business, and was already gaining contacts at the show.
What are some lessons you learned during your time online?
1. You have to educate yourself to protect yourself. On the web, you do open yourself up to a lot more people and there are those looking to scam you. Fortunately, the webmasters we've chosen have been really focused on credit card security and we've never had an issue there. But we have had personal e-mails come through that start off sounding like a legitimate customer, but have buried requests for money or for us to register our information with them. You just have to be weary and smart.
2. Search Engine Optimization! You have to do it in order to help people find you. Otherwise, it like having a party where you didn't send the invitations out. The sites we've worked from have always had built-in features for tagging and classifying which made it very straightforward (but still very necessary!)
3. Build your contacts lists for e-marketing efforts. Again, it's all about letting people know (and reminding them) you're there! When you have a web-based business, people can't just walk in or drive by. You have to lead them there.
4. You have to be prepared for the postage component of being online. We learned by trial and error. But, then again, we were lucky not to have weird shaped things to mail. Even still, there was still a learning curve to figuring out how to optimize our shipping procedure. An as an online business, that's a huge portion of your process.
Why did you decide to Add a physical location to your online operation?
You lose that real human contact online - there's no way around that. The web portion was very important and we had grown tremendously and built wonderful mailing lists from being there. But we just realized we were missing a part of the business not being in-person with our customers.
How has the addition of brick and mortar been for business?
We love it here at Shab Row! We're so very happy to have the full business experience now. I'll say the most rewarding part has been having customers walk through our doors and realizing they've been with us from the very beginning. And that includes people from all over - Alabama, California, Texas. They walk in and - it's so funny - they tell me their e-mail address and I know exactly who they are! It's a wonderful moment and you feel like there is a reason you've been doing it. Although it's hard to realize, online you are building a community - we're just lucky enough to get to see it now!