Sramana: Was the premise of CleanItSupply.com to sell cleaning supplies to companies like your family business?
Dan Dillon: Yes, we wanted to sell to janitorial services companies as well as the suppliers of janitorial services companies. The experience I had in the trenches let me know my space and my vertical very well. I had touched and smelled all the cleaners out there. I had used most of the dispensers and products. I like to consider myself an expert in that space. I was taught from other business owners to stick to an area you know, so I decided to dive into that space.
Sramana: Did you have to take on inventory?
Dan Dillon: I could not afford inventory. We would like to sell it before we bought it to help with cash flow. We bootstrapped this company, so cash flow was important. Every penny counts. The plan was to keep inventory as low as possible.
Sramana: So how did you do it?
Dan Dillon: We beat the street. I built an office in my garage with a computer, desk and phone. The first day I sat down and told myself that I needed to make something happen. I reached out to all of my existing janitorial cleaning clients and told them what I was doing. They knew me and trusted me, so I asked them for the opportunity to see what I could do for them. The key is that I encouraged them to purchase and repurchase their supplies on CleanItSupply.com.
Sramana: Once you got the orders, where did you get the supplies from?
Dan Dillon: I had established a wholesale partnership. There was a wholesale supplier I knew from my previous work. I did not qualify to get materials from them before because I was a contractor. Now that I was a supplier, they were willing to entertain my business and they opened an account for me.
Sramana: What kind of volume did you do your first month?
Dan Dillon: If I got one order a day I was lucky. It was scratch, climb and crawl to get a sale. I was not focused on how much profit I could get per sale. Instead, I focused on accumulating as many clients as possible. Customer acquisition is huge. In order to have a viable business in my space, I needed to have a large number of clients. I needed to have loyal customers, which meant customer service was critical. For me it was all about the customers and the services I provided to them. It was about bring proactive on my part in learning their needs. I had to earn their trust.
Sramana: What were the first years journey like? How did you go beyond your immediate contact base?
Dan Dillon: I reinvested the dollars I made on my initial client captures back into website marketing. I would invest in either search engine optimization or in some sort of marketing that would bring in additional dollars.
Sramana: Was search engine optimization your primary path of customer acquisition?
Dan Dillon: It was. In 2006 and 2007 search engine optimization was like black magic. If you read deep enough and researched then, it became less mysterious. I spent many hours behind the computer doing just that. I spent a lot of time on organic search engine optimization. I did not engage in pay-per-click until 2011.