Entrepreneur and Advantage Marketing client Deborah Palacio was a guest recently on The Secrets of Success Women Entrepreneurs Radio program. Deb runs WebUndies.com,a business that she started in her basement in 1999, when few retailers were selling online. Today WebUndies is a $1.5 million business – and growing. The company sells licensed character underwear and loungewear at affordable prices with exceptional customer service.
Deb talked to Secrets of Success host Deborah Bailey about starting and growing a successful, sustainable Internet-based business. Here are some of the insights Deb shared in her half hour interview:
Don’t expect overnight success. WebUndies had only $16,000 in sales in the first year, “and we probably spent $16,000 to get the business started,” Deb says. “We grew the business slowly over time, and didn’t depend on it to pay the mortgage.” She and her partners grew the business as it made sense, taking time to work out the kinks and see where they needed help from outside the company.
Know what sets you apart. Today most Internet markets are saturated, says Deb, and it can be hard to break in. There are, for example, thousands of t-shirt sellers that come up in Google search. Ask yourself: Is what I plan to sell something people want? If I’m going to be that next t-shirt seller, what would make people come to me instead of all the others?
Lean on someone more experienced. When you’re starting out, it saves you a lot of legwork to have someone more experienced whom you can trust, so you can lean on their expertise. If they’ve researched shopping carts already, for example, you can learn from them and narrow your choices that much faster.
If it’s not profitable, get rid of it. WebUndies found itself in a price war with other online sellers over Hanes t-shirts. Although these were popular items and sold well, the company ended up taking a hit to its bottom line. Deb learned that it didn’t pay to carry low margin products just because they sold well. Now she knows which of her products are winners and sticks with them.
Expect markets to be fickle. “Don’t just chase trends, you’ll get stuck with deadwood inventory,” says Deb. “A couple of years ago, we sold a ton of Hannah Montana, now nobody cares about it anymore. This year everything is Angry Birds, but once we sell out our inventory, I won’t be stocking much more of it.”
Keep the customer experience positive. Deb was a department manager at Nordstrom before starting WebUndies, and she knows how important customer service is. “I am the WebUndies’ customer service manager. I answer customer emails daily – even on vacation,” Deb says. “Our customer service keeps us top-rated as an Amazon seller.” WebUndies also has clearly worded shipping and return policies posted on its website, so customers know what to expect.
Understand your customer. Listen to what your customer is asking for – the products, styles and sizes. “I take my customers’ suggestions and bring them back to my suppliers and tell them this is what customers want,” says Deb. “I push my suppliers to look for the licenses that I know my customers will buy.”
It’s your business – own it. “New business owners may think, ‘it’s my business I can do whatever I want’. That’s not true,” says Deb. “You can’t take a lot of time away from the business and expect it to be successful – you just don’t have that flexibility. You must be dedicated and committed to what you do, 365 days a year.”
To listen to Deb’s entire half hour interview, go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/coachdeb/2011/08/24/deb-palacio-of-webundiescom.
And there you have it: advice from a successful, seasoned Internet entrepreneur. What other advice do you think is useful for starting and running an Internet-based business?