04 Feb Small Business Owner has the Knack for Growth and Prosperity
Karen Cox is a successful small business entrepreneur. She is the current owner of the Guerneville 5&10 store and MoroccanAshtrays.com. In addition, she built a successful online, e-commerce business, AfricanTreasures.com, which she sold in 2011
Q: Since I’ve known you, you’ve built two successful businesses, African Treasures and the Guerneville Five and Ten, what qualities do you think have made those businesses grow?
A: Having a niche market. When I started African Treasures, it was a new internet retail business, just as e-commerce was getting started. I started on eBay, then expanded to my own website. Back in those days, advertising with Yahoo and MSN was free, so that helped me get launched.
I started the business to fill the need for drummers, but when that market got more saturated with vendors, I diversified into other related product lines. I tired to be flexible to see and fill the needs of the market.
Another key factor when I started was networking and asking lots of questions. I certainly didn’t have all of the answers, so I asked people who knew more than me. My customer service and bookkeeping background also helped because I was able to stay organized.
Q: How does this apply to the Five and Dime Store?
A: When we took over the 5&10, it really needed new life. We went in with the philosophy of taking care of the customer and if we could do that then the customers would take care of us.
We remodeled and filled the store and when the customers came in, we asked what they wanted. Some said knitting supplies, and while I’m not a knitter, I asked what supplies they wanted and needed. We understand that having the products customers want, builds long-term customers.
Our great downtown location, our community involvement and our employees all have a role in the store’s success too.
Q: What lessons did you learn that helped you to grow the businesses?
A: With both businesses, I learned the power of diversification and carrying products that people enjoy finding. I love having a 5&10 customer bring up a full basket with items from all over the different areas of the store.
With the 5&10, we started by developing a strategy and plan. We organized the store into departments, then decided what products would most appeal to our customers. We wanted products that were interesting enough to buy and weren’t available in our immediate area.
We also wanted to re-frame the business as a 12 month business, instead of one that focused primarily on the summer months with the river crowd. In doing so, we asked lots of questions of our customers. We also looked for products like our greeting cards that would create a memory hook. I love hearing the laughter from our greeting card section and people remember where to come for unique and funny greeting cards.
Q: What’s your advice for running a small business?
A: Customers are number one! That’s our driving philosophy. At the 5&10 we greet customers at the door and acknowledge them. We can guide them, or leave them alone to browse, we just want them to know we are here to help if they need it.
We make this an important part of our employee training too. We ask our employees to be nimble and wear many hats, but the focus on the needs of the customer never wavers.
The 5&10 business is a tough one. We carry lots of inventory, but we aren’t big enough to automate the process, so much of the work gets done by hand. Our employees are a big part of making this work. Because the work is tough, we make every effort to give them a fun and rewarding environment to work in. When they are happy, that carries over to making our customers happy.
Q: How did your strategy and implementation differ from those of your competitors?
For African Treasures, getting into e-commerce at the beginning was important. I started out on the ground floor and worked my way up. As one of the first websites in the space, we built great organic search results which we used to drive traffic. We found the organic search gave us more credibility than the newer sites that were paying for their traffic.
I also made sure I was available to help customers on the phone. Even though it was an e-commerce business, many customers wanted to talk to a live person to ask questions and get help. I could pass on my knowledge and give free advice. Other websites had no way of reaching a live person and this cost them sales which we got instead.
Q: You have to juggle many competing priorities with your business, how do you handle them?
A: Selling African Treasures, really freed up my time to focus on the 5&10. We had a 14% increase in sales last year and part of that was getting things done in a timely fashion.
We also had a chance to really fine-tune our employees and match those to our customer and business needs. It really is functioning as a team. From laying out the vision, to implementing the steps that make customers feel good about buying from you.
We also had some great PR about Guerneville from the New York Times, AAA Via Magazine and Sunset. As an anchor business, the 5&10 was mentioned in each of these stories, along with the new restaurants that have been bringing people out to this area. The recovering economy has played a role too.
Q: What other marketing tactics have been successful?
A: We’ve had some great gains from social media. We’re finding that we can engage with customers, and increase our reach to places around the World. It’s fun to engage with customers in Japan, Russia and elsewhere.
We also encourage our customers to add to the conversations on Facebook, or Yelp. It’s helped drive business from friends and neighbors who hear about us and drop by when they are in the area.
It helps to have the 5&10 right in the middle of downtown Guerneville. As they say, location, location, location. Plus, we’ve been able to create something that’s unique, different and fun. We get locals and tourists alike. It’s been very rewarding.
Visit Karen in Guerneville and the 5&10 in the middle of downtown. You can also shop online at MoroccanAshtrays.com for unique and colorful ashtrays.