SM: If 42% of your business is referrals, what percentage is driven by search strategies?
JS: I am not sure how you want to consider it, but we have a lot of direct-type in traffic due to the name, blinds.com. Our actual revenue numbers breakdown is as follows: 34% are repeat buyers and 13% are referrals. Natural search traffic and direct type-ins account for 20% of our business and paid search accounts for 18%. Affiliate programs bring in 8%, radio brings in 3%, and miscellaneous methods account for 4%.
SM: You took this business from $500 a week and turned it into something very significant. I think that it is important to understand some of the mechanics of how you got there.
JS: At the heart of it all is customer experience. An e-commerce business is just a regular business that is using the Web. It always comes back to the value proposition. If you have to continue to buy customers, then your customer acquisition will be too high. Everything we do is based on the question “Is this going to wow the customer?” and focusing on continual improvement. We are constantly looking for ways to experiment here and there. That ultimately creates the momentum that has everybody in the company focused on improving themselves, improving the company, and improving the customer experience. It is just a fundamental thing. Customers sense that. They feel the sincerity.
SM: How many customer service reps do you have today?
JS: We have a total of 70 employees doing about $51 million. Around half of them, 40 of them, are in the sales and customer service department.
SM: You have always had a lot of content on the website itself that talks about the product and provides education. Tell me more about the content strategy.
JS: The strategy right from the beginning was to provide relevant information so that customers would not have to call me for it. I knew, from the buying process, what questions people would ask. I would provide answer to the questions that I knew they were asking, hopefully in that same linear order.
SM: That was a result of your hands-on experience, right?
JS: Correct. I was just digitizing the sales process that I already knew. It was consultative selling but it was not interactive. Now it is interactive. We have filters, artificial intelligence, and all different ways to sort. We even have our own recording studio where we have done our own videos. People are talking now about how videos will increase your sales. It is absolutely true. I had videos in 1997. I filmed them in my bathroom.
I had a guy who knew how to film. We created 15-second videos on how to install four or five different products. It was the same window, and I was the one doing the installation. The camera man did the narration. It was hilarious, but it worked. Even back then we had testimonials as well as customers who called me and let me record their audio testimonials.
I had fake testimonials, which were obviously fake because they were from Abraham Lincoln and Paul Bunyan [a North American lumberjack who was the subject of many folk tales]. Those were there for fun. I had impersonators do the voice of all those people. That let people realize that I was having fun with what I was doing as well.
I patterned my company after Car Talk, the show on National Public Radio. You had two really smart guys who loved their business but had fun doing it. They had puzzlers. The name of my company at the time was No Brain or Blinds because I wanted to make buying blinds and shades a no-brainer. The address of my company was 1 Brainer Tower, which was the address of my house. My address literally read ‘1 Brainer Tower, Houston, TX’. Mail got to me.