From Mail Order to the Internet – The Shoe Shack Builds a Growing Business Using StoresOnline

We spent some hours every week learning how to market our website. It paid off greatly for us.
– Bryan Castleman, Co-owner, The Shoe Shack

How to Build an E-commerce Website?

In 2003 the Shoe Shack was a small mail order shoe business when it decided to make the leap to the Internet. However its first online store was relatively unsuccessful. “We really weren’t getting any traffic or sales,” said Bryan Castleman, co-owner of the Shoe Shack. Not wanting to give up, he searched for a better way to build and market an e-commerce website.

Today the Shoe Shack sells shoes, work boots, western boots, military boots and other footwear online at discounted prices. Its main website is shoeshackonline.com, and it operates several related niche websites that include discountedboots.com, workbootsuperstore.com and militarybootpros.com. It also has a retail storefront at its building in Martin, Tennessee, though 95% of its sales volume comes via the Internet.

After its first attempt at creating an e-commerce website, Castleman attended a conference for StoresOnline, an Internet company that provides a structured platform and simplified, do-it-yourself approach for building e-commerce websites. “We went to StoresOnline and saw how easy it was to build a website. It was somewhat laid out for you already, but you could also do your own customization,” he said. StoresOnline provides templates that users can customize with text and graphics. It has software tools for managing websites, products, customers, email and order processing. “With some of the places where we had a website, Yahoo! being one of them, we had to pay a commission of our sales. StoresOnline doesn’t ask for a commission of sales online. They are more of an e-commerce platform that you build on.”

“Marketing was the one aspect that stood out,” continued Castleman. “StoresOnline compiles all that in a marketing database. And then they give you strategies on how to use them for your website – how to optimize your website by doing meta tags, key words, image tags, all kinds of things that go with Internet marketing. We spent some hours every week learning how to market our website. It paid off greatly for us. We were able to get it up and running.”

StoresOnline also hosts websites in its data center. “They host my website on their servers, which are backed up. You can host them other places, or if you want to host them yourself, you can. We haven’t had a problem with our site being down. They’re a good one to go with,” he said.

Profits and Growth by Doing It Yourself

Since that time the Shoe Shack has enjoyed solid growth. “Before then we were really a small business. My father was the only employee. Now we’ve grown and have eight full-time employees and several part-time employees that work during the busy seasons and Christmas. Last year we had a twenty percent growth overall in our company… Being able to sell more online has allowed us to get capital and to buy close-out items that we can sell on eBay and in our retail store,” said Castleman.

The guided, do-it-yourself approach has worked well for the company. “A lot of people like to do things themselves because it does pay off. This is a way you can learn how to market all your websites by following their strategies. StoresOnline has videos that show you how to work on your website, how to put products up, how to build a page, how to put links on your page, things like that. You might need them to help set up, but we pretty much do everything ourselves,” he said.

“That makes us a little bit more profitable. It allows us every now and then to discount items that other, bigger companies might not be able to do. We can put more money into marketing because we have our own in-house marketing company.”

A Bump in the Road

But the road to success was not without bumps along the way. An oversight cost them a significant volume of business in 2005, though they eventually recovered. The Shoe Shack mistakenly thought they had renewed the domain name for their main website, but in fact it had expired. A scam artist bought the domain name for ten dollars and offered to sell it back to them for a million dollars cash. They declined, so the scammer set up the domain to filter orders to other online footwear businesses as an affiliate website. The Shoe Shack was forced to use a different name for its website and rebuild and re-market it.

“We were really upset about it. It taught us a good lesson to make sure our domain names are registered. When you buy a domain name, that is your business, that’s your name, that’s where your website is going to be hosted. We make sure now that everything is all together and check one or two times a year, if not more. Because that hurt us,” said Castleman.

Onward and Upward

The Shoe Shack continues to grow by developing new niche websites, most of which are related to footwear, such as workbootsuperstore.com and militarybootpros.com. Having learned how to build and market a website, Castleman is adept at creating new ones using the StoresOnline platform. Existing pages and products can be transferred over with some modifications to the text, links and tags. “We try to hit different niche markets. I buy several domain names that I might one day build a website on. That’s how I see our business and our company growing. And I love using StoresOnline because it seems so simple for me. I know how to use it, I’m comfortable with it, and it has been a good experience. I don’t plan to change,” he said.

“There are still a lot of things we don’t do that StoresOnline tells us we should do. As we grow and can hire more people, we’ll continue to do more and more online. The Internet is a huge business online and it’s somewhat never ending. There might be other people marketing online, but there is always a piece of the pie out there you can get in retail sales. You have to figure out what you can work with as a business.”

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

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