Time for Change

Adding E-Commerce Capabilities

Patrick Coughlin, 45
American Diamond Importers, St. Clair, Michigan
Projected 2006 Sales:
$1.8 million
The Business: In 1988, Patrick Coughlin carved out a nice niche selling diamonds at wholesale prices to insurance companies that needed to replace lost or stolen gems. When a local retail jeweler came on the market four years later, Coughlin saw a chance to expand and purchased the shop, entering the retail jewelry marketplace. Still, it took a while for customers to catch on that the store offered more than just diamonds, and the name, American Diamond Importers, didn't help. In 2005, Coughlin decided it was time to create a website to help spread the word about his business.

The Challenge: Initially, the site was just an informational website about the company with no e-commerce functionality. Changing that, says ProStores business advisor Jen Mouritsen, was the big challenge. "The first hurdle was turning his site into a full e-commerce solution and getting his customers to be able to find him and buy online without having to make a phone call," she explains. "As we move into the integration with eBay and getting ProStores up and running, we need to be sure that he has feedback and support to keep running the business effectively online."

The Solution: ADI's new website is fully optimized, and Coughlin has had a crash course in how to make his site rank higher in customers' online searches for fine jewelry. Now customers can immediately see the wide variety of offerings his company has and easily make purchases. Because the new site allows him to reach out to customers in other states--and even other countries--Coughlin says he'll be able to keep their business, even if they relocate.

"Optimization, spiders, sponsorships--it's like I've learned a whole new language," Coughlin says. But he expects that language to pay off in a big way. "When you turn on the news here, it's hard not to get depressed. Michigan's economy is in the dumpster because of all the news coming out of the car [industry]," he explains. "We were expecting to do $1 million in online sales next year, but now we expect to double that. We've already hired six new full-time people to handle the increase, and if all goes according to plan, we'll probably hire another six more. That's great news for our area."

Warren Tracy, 49
The Busted Knuckle Garage, Prescott, Arizona
Projected 2006 Sales:
More than $300,000
The Business: When Warren Tracy stumbled out of bed in the middle of the night in August 1996 and scrawled a foggy idea on a piece of paper, he didn't realize he had just started his next business venture. A year later, Tracy refined and trademarked that late-night doodle to launch The Busted Knuckle Garage, a gift company that now offers 150 distinctive, branded items for car and motorcycle enthusiasts.

Tracy started getting the word out by promoting skin-care products for mechanics and other hands-on types, such as the river guides he worked with at the Grand Canyon. He began publicizing his products through back-of-the-book advertising in an automotive magazine, and sales increased. When the business picked up some momentum, he quit his job, sold his small collection of cars and motorcycles, and refinanced his house to get the capital he needed to grow the business.

The Challenge: Revenue growth has been steady since the company's founding in 1997--Tracy has licensed his trademarked name to other manufacturers and closed a 3,400-store distribution deal for a major automobile parts retailer--but Tracy knew sales through his website could be stronger.

"We created retail demand for [our] product and focused on wholesaling to stores and catalog companies," Tracy explains. "We didn't really customize the website to any great extent but watched it grow every year. Someone needed to come in with tools and bring it up [a] level. I raised my hand and said, 'I'm not the one.'"

The Solution: Spearheaded by ProStores director Julian Green, the team created a slick new look and a more functional shopping cart for the site, as well as back-end functions that capture more customer information and sales data, allowing the site to handle a greater volume of sales seamlessly. "Through ProStores, Tracy will be able to list items on eBay as well as other comparison shopping sites [such as Froogle and Shopping.com]," says Green. "Managing and updating those listings will help drive traffic to [his] products."

Tracy expects the site and other marketing will result in an uptick in referral business: "I believe we've built something so friendly and so inviting that new and existing customers will be extremely motivated to tell their friends and family what they've discovered."

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the November 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Time for Change.

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