SM: What did you do after Meineke?
JS: The company was sold, and I got fired. They pushed me out of the company and forced me to deal with what I wanted to do. Right before I was fired we were looking at other businesses to franchise. We were really experts in franchising, even more than we were experts at running muffler shops. We were in the franchise business more than we were in the muffler business.
We were looking to franchise other businesses. One of those businesses was window coverings. The British company that bought us abandoned the idea of buying other companies. We were really keen on that industry, so we launched some stores in window coverings and started franchising those. I then decided that I would run, with my wife, some drapery and blinds stores. That was around 1986. My wife actually started it and I was doing some marketing consulting.
SM: You are talking about actual brick-and-mortar stores, correct?
JS: Yes. My third child was born in 1990 and my wife decided she wanted to stay home with the three kids. We merged the stores, and I was the only one running this store. It was only 1,001 square feet, including the bathroom. I was going to people’s homes and selling blinds and shades. I was a shop-at-home decorator. I was working seven days a week. I was out the door when it was dark and by the time I got home it was dark. That is what I did Monday through Saturday. On Sunday I was doing all the paperwork. It was a true mom-and-pop situation, and I was the pop.
In 1993 I read an article in a trade magazine about the World Wide Web. I had been in business for seven years by that point. AOL had 500,000 subscribers. I decided that I would set up a website. I was the first one in the industry, to my knowledge, to establish an online website for my store. I still have giant poster of that homepage in my office because I want to remember what it was like in day one.
SM: It sounds as though you are one of the first e-commerce ventures period, right there with Amazon.
JS: Correct. I was one of the first at all. People had no idea what I was doing. I did it from my garage. In 1993 it was just a website that was a brochure for my store. In 1996 I realized that people were selling things.
SM: So you were not actually selling in 1993?
JS: No, I didn’t know how. I started selling them online in 1996. I was the only employee. I did all the marketing and everything myself. I had a company in Ohio that I found online do my website. It cost me $3,000 to do the first site. That is all the money I have ever put into the business. It has grown organically since.
SM: In 1993 did you generate any business at all from the website?
JS: Yes. It generated appointments and leads. Not a lot, but it was enough. I advertised it on everything I had.
SM: Today if you have a website, there is a certain amount of search traffic that automatically comes to you. That was certainly not happening at that point.
JS: No. I was doing the guerilla marketing tactics that people are talking about now. Once I started selling online in 1996,= I really became active at marketing.