As we head into 2008, it’s almost impossible to run a successful business without having a website. Here, three retail store industry experts explain the importance of search engines, the advantages to offering your inventory online and the effectiveness of affiliate programs.
In an age of immediate sales, it’s hard to imagine a retail store — in any industry — that doesn’t have a web page for their business. That’s like an enlargement pill that doesn’t cite Ron Jeremy.
But it didn’t start that way. At first, only the cool kids had dot-coms. But now, through necessity, it seems every adult store has a web page of some sort in order to survive. That need is even more exaggerated in the adult industry, where privacy is almost imperative. After all, it’s not like your customers are coming in and buying a loaf of bread — they’re buying intimate products. Some customers may prefer to obtain these items, or at least find out exactly where said item can be purchased, without every Harry, Jack and Samantha knowing what they do with the shades pulled.
ENTER THE INTERNET
Enter your store’s representation on the web. Intimidated by the Internet? Afraid to traverse the information superhighway? Don’t be. This article will tell you how you can start your own web page, adjust it to bring in business and even start your own online retail store.
“There’s no store or business out there that shouldn’t have a website,” says Eric McCoy, owner and online retail aficionado of The Reddoor Stores in North Carolina. “That’s where people go for information, period.”
From the most basic purpose of helping bring in one new customer to actually making your company millions in overseas purchasing, the possibilities of what a web page can do for your adult store are endless. And with technology advances coming every minute, opportunities to further Internet retail production are constantly rising to the surface.
For those basic purposes — such as getting your name and company on the web, helping online customers to find the location of your actual brick-and-mortar location, or letting them know what you offer at your shop — it’s crucial to have the search engines (such as Google.com and Ask.com) behind you.
“You want to be No. 1 on Google for what you are, not for what you carry,” advises Nikki Meir, webmaster for Florida’s Fairvilla Megastores. Fairvilla.com is one of the biggest adult retailers online. “You don’t want a prospective customer to type in your company’s name and your website comes up at No. 43. You want to be the No. 1 reference.”
It’s obvious that you need to establish your store as unique on the web. What good is your site if it’s not going to be utilized properly?
OK, so you need exposure from the search engines. But how do you get your store listed on a search engine? And, even more importantly, how can you make sure that you’re listed at the top?
“There’s two different ways to occupy [be listed on] a search engine site,” McCoy explains. “If you search ‘adult DVDs’ [or ‘adult DVDs North Carolina’] on Google.com, the list that shows up on the left of the screen is an organic list — the right side is paid. You can pay to have your website put up at the top.”
McCoy also stresses the importance of being able to be located when someone is searching for your business on the Internet. “You can optimize your site as well, so there is a possibility of traffic,” he says. “You really have to work to have a great site, one that every one will come to. You can’t just throw something together and expect to compete. There are people who have been doing it for years. Believe it or not, it can be even harder to get people to find your website than to find your corner store.”
For Fairvilla’s Meir, local customers are the primary area of concentration when it comes to their Internet presence. How can your store stand out from the rest of the adult businesses in your area? Meir explains some of Fairvilla’s philosophies.
“Be the best at being your company on the web,” Meir states simply. “And especially, have your web address be as close to your actual store name as you can get it.”
For example, in Fairvilla’s case, their website is Fairvilla.com; in the case of the Reddoor stores, it’s TheReddoorStore.com. This way, if a customer is searching for you, they’ll stumble upon your site without having to travel too far. And as the site’s most basic functionality, it will also get them to stumble into your brick-and-mortar location.
“Our No. 1 demographic is our [local demographic],” says Meir. “We don’t do a lot of search engine optimization and online advertising. All of our advertising for our brick-and-mortar stores is tagged to Fairvilla.com, so we get a lot of local people. In Orlando, it may take an hour to come across town and come to our store. Some people prefer to shop online out of convenience and ease. One of the most popular pages on the Fairvilla site is the locations page. A lot of people go to the site to see where we are and what we have at the store, and then they may shop online. But in a lot of cases, it’s an aid to get them to the actual shop location.”
That said, store owners have a great outline for beginning their website. Be clear about who you are and what your mission is. Have a straightforward address, so there is no confusion in locating your site. Have a “locations” page and information on how to contact store personnel on your site. Show what it is that your store offers. Do you specialize in DVDs or in novelty items? Before a shopper will hop in the car and take the trek, it would help to know why they’re making it.
Now that your website is properly in place in cyberspace, it may be time to seriously look into online retail. That is, the ability for people to actually purchase your products directly from the website. This wasn’t McCoy’s original plan, but it’s done wonders for The Reddoor Stores. Originally, he wanted to become a national brick-and-mortar store chain that was a one-stop-shop for exotic dancer apparel.
“When I opened up my store I did everything I could to go national: I got retail management, I worked on my branding, I had the money, I had the backing, I had the warehouse, I had the setup,” says McCoy. “And so I began trying to look for locations, and it was terribly difficult.”
Despite befriending many purveyors that owned locations in neighboring shopping centers (in fact, some of them eventually became clientele), they stuck their noses up and refused to let McCoy expand into their “smut-free” areas. But instead of allowing his frustration to get the best of him, he decided to go a different route. Rather than packing up the merchandise and opening up a new brick-and-mortar store, he kept the merchandise right where it was and began offering it on the web. “So that’s how I first backed into the Internet,” McCoy says.
According to Bridget Silvestri, head of public relations for Trashy Lingerie, their circumstances for entering the online realm were a bit different. “For us, there was demand for it,” she says. “Because we're an established name, it made sense to offer ourselves on a bigger platform.”
This may be the case for your business as well. Selling on the Internet offers you the ability to hit markets that you could have otherwise never hit.
“[The Internet] is a much bigger marketplace,” adds McCoy in agreement. “I do business in Hawaii. I mean, Hawaiians are never going to walk into my store, but they can buy our finest products on the website.”
Coming in full circle, Silvestri also admits that an Internet presence can help you to expand your brick-and-mortars. “It’s a great way to test the waters if you’re thinking about branching off to a different location,” she explains. “We’ve been asked to open stores in other states and other countries, and we felt that the next step from having one boutique is to have an online store. It depends on if you want to expand your brand.”
So how does your store get involved with online retail, especially if you know very little about the whole campaign of running a business online? As McCoy admits, running your brick-and-mortar store vs. an online store are two totally different animals. This may be something that will require further research before venturing into.
“In order to carry on my online retail sites, I have in my office four full-time customer service agents that answer the phones, handle all of the refunds and handle any kind of customer service issue,” says McCoy. “We have full-time shippers, one manager that oversees them, and then I have a graphic designer and a full-time IT person. It’s a huge commitment for any business.
“Now, e-commerce is a whole different ball game,” McCoy continues. “If you’re going to sell, you’ll have to have the inventory to begin. You’ll need a whole shipping operation, you’ll need marketers, and I think people can of course do that, but it’s not like you can expect to do it out of your garage. That’s the misconception people may have.”
One way to realistically consider online retail is to hire a product fulfillment affiliate, such as what Meir and Fairvilla employ with the company Effex Media. Effex Media, a sister company of East Coast News (ECN) and IVD, provides a product fulfillment affiliate program. ‘The advantage of having business passed on to Effex is, before we were limited to having just our inventory and just our stock; now, with Effex, we have the entire ECN and IVD catalog available online,” explains Meir. “Basically, what happens is, we have our site, Fairvilla.com; but when a customer decides to start shopping online, they actually leave (and are automatically redirected to) our server and go onto the Effex Media server. Effex media handles all product fulfillment and all of the credit card processing, in addition to adding new products to the site. And for sending them our customers, we have a commission rate of 20-40 percent return. When we switched our site over to Effex Media, our site showed an immediate increase of 300-400 percent. We quadrupled our product selection, because we’re able to utilize their entire catalog.”
Affiliating your website with a company like Effex and others can do wonders for your business online. In the case of Trashy Lingerie, they make a large profit online because of the demand outside of their headquarters in Hollywood.
“We researched affiliates extensively, and Trashy went with the affiliate that we were most comfortable with,” says Silvestri. “There are a lot of them out there, and you have to do your research. Do due diligence before you jump into the pool, because you could very easily end up sinking.”
While all of this information may be a lot to take in at once, don’t let this discourage you. It’s important to have representation online and it can do wonders for your business. From bringing people into your store to having customers in Hawaii that don’t even enter your brick-and-mortars, your website is a necessity for your business. Do your research and get ready to merge onto the information superhighway.