SM: How much revenue did you do in 1996?
JS: I started it in the last week of June 1996. I probably did $500 a week. That is rough, but I am sure I did not do more than that. I was hoping for a sale a day back then.
SM: Did the sales require high-touch customer interaction?
JS: Our shopping cart did not allow someone to buy something and have the price show up. It was a text field form in which you basically had to type in the name of the product and use a pricing grid to look up the price and enter the price in the proper text field. You then had to add them up yourself. I would personally have to double check the math.
When people would call with questions, there was nobody to answer the phone. I had a message that said “all of our customer service representatives are busy,” and I would get somebody to check these messages and call me on my cell phone. I would typically be on the road so I would pull into a parking lot in my van. I had my calculator, my price sheet, and my order form on the front seat of my van. I would call the customer back and talk with them and hopefully fill in the form with my pencil and pen. At night I would run the credit card through. I had a template for the order confirmation so that it looked like it was automatically generating their name.
SM: Did you have to help the customers pick the actual product, or could they pick out what they wanted based on the information that was on your website?
JS: Both. At the time most of the people called, at least 80%. People were afraid to use their credit card online.
SM: I understand that from a security perspective, but what about product Q&A? That really changes the dynamics if you have to do consultative selling online.
JS: We had a lot of contact. I had a lot of articles on my website because even back then I was focused on search engine optimization. We were ranked number 1. Those articles did help inform the customers.
SM: Tell me more about your search engine strategies. Not many people did search engine optimization in 1997.
JS: I found Danny Sullivan back then, and he did the search engine optimization with me.
SM: What kind of keywords were you optimizing on?
JS: Blinds and window blinds were the two main words.
SM: Has it broadened since?
JS: We have thousands of keywords and phrases. We have negative keywords. We probably have upwards of 10,000. We have a very elaborate process today.
SM: Is it your top customer acquisition strategy?
JS: No. It is near the bottom. The top is customer experience. Almost half of our customers, 42%, are repeat and referral customers. That will remain our top strategy. We also do PPC advertising, but now that represents less than 15% of our revenue.
SM: How does PPC compare to organic SEO?
JS: Organic is better. We do all our PPC and organic optimization in-house. We have two to three people assigned to those things, and that is all they do.