Julie Walbrun, also known as Momma Bear at yellowbearshop.com, shares her unique insights into driving sales and discusses the challenges of finding the right drop shipping vendors.
When did you get started in E-Commerce?
I started in e-commerce around 2005 with several attempts at different online stores. Unfortunately, I did not have full control over the design and functionality of the websites, so needless to say, they were failures. I stepped back for a year but still had a strong desire to be an Internet entrepreneur. We had a baby along the way and I quickly became familiar with infant and kid’s products. I decided opening an online kid’s store, with me being in full control, would be my niche.
Where did the name Yellow Bear Shop come from?
Our daughter has a stuffed bear which she calls Yellow Bear. My web designer is also an illustrator and as a result, Yellow Bear comes to life in my webstore.
What type of growth have you experienced since starting your site?
Whoever thinks that “Open a e-store and they will come” works is in for a rude awakening. Just like a brick-and-mortar storefront, it takes time to build your business. Even though I was well-verses in SEO techniques when I opened www.YellowBearShop.com and surrounded myself with colleagues who specialized in interactive marketing, sales have been slower than I anticipated. I opened my store using Network Solutions shopping cart in late 2007. The first year I spent countless hours finding vendors and adding products to my store. Once I felt I had enough to offer to parents, it was time to fully advertise with business cards, blog submissions, content pages and press releases. I also went through a store name change to shorten my URL but still keep it descriptive. I anticipate as the economy strengthens, my sales will increase.
How do you get traffic your site?
I pride myself on detailed product descriptions, lots of pictures and helpful content pages. I want my customers to see me as an expert in the product lines I market on Yellow Bear Shop. My shopping cart software has an easy-to-use meta tag building area where I test keywords and product descriptions. I sometimes publish press releases when I add a new vendor or product line. There is only so much time in a day and I should be doing more of these. I have not yet spent money to pay for advertising on the search engines. It is very energizing when I see Yellow Bear Shop rank very high organically for keywords such as diaper caddy organizer, TummyTub baby bathtub and Abiie stroller. While I sometimes feel powerless that Google controls my fate, I am ecstatic when my keywords get on page one of the organic rankings.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
Finding drop shipping vendors that run a professional business is one of my biggest challenges. I have spent hundreds of hours putting a manufacturer’s products on Yellow Bear Shop only to have to delete them six months later when they lose my order or become unreliable. Yes, the poor economy has caused a few to close their doors but some manufacturers don’t know how to hold onto the business they have. I have become much smarter over the years when it come to forming a relationship with a new manufacturer.
Being price competitive is my other challenge. Manufacturers often dictate a minimum price that their online vendors can charge to keep a level playing field. This is great if all online stores follow the rules but many do not and lower their prices. Nursery baby bedding is my largest product offering so I am constantly looking at competitive pricing. Some of the culprits are the big box stores which I won’t name and others are other small business owners. Manufacturers are hesitant to tell their big box customers to change their prices when they are buying a larger volume than me. I get extremely frustrated when I know I can sell and service my customers just as well but can’t compete on price. Some manufacturers will cut a case pack deal with the big box stores and this pushes the little guy right out of the competition. Some big box stores charge the customer less than my cost is on the same product. In this case, I usually stop working with those manufacturers. I try to find products that can’t be found everywhere. Parents like to decorate their nursery in a design that their neighbor isn’t using, too.
Many manufacturers have their own webstore and they compete against me. This hurts but is reality. Some vendors change their product lines often and it is hard to build up a rankings when products come and go. For example, I sell a lot of disposable diaper cakes, but one of my manufacturers likes to change their diaper cake styles often. They are popular baby shower gifts but I find myself doing a lot of upkeep on my cake line to get top rankings.
(Related Articles: Are Your Manufacturers Competing Against You Online? | Potential Brands Checklist)
What aspects of running an online store do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy writing the content and adding new products to Yellow Bear Shop. It excites me to think that maybe a new parent will buy kid’s bedding from my webstore when their baby moves into his twin bed! My next challenge is developing the product concept that is in my head. It’s a children’s related product, of course. I just need to find the time to complete the design and get it to market. I know where I will sell it first!
What tips would you share for others trying to grow their E-Commerce business?
Do your due diligence for any vendor you are thinking about buying from. READ all of their terms and conditions carefully and ask lots of questions. I find that terms and conditions are missing a lot of information and manufacturers gets frustrated that I have so many questions but if they are not prepared to answer them, I walk away.
Work with manufacturers that will put a link to your webstore on their website, sell to you at a competitive cost and provide you with detailed product descriptions and pictures. Oh, and make sure they answer their phone and return emails. Seems so basic a concept but it doesn’t always happen.
Screenshots taken from www.yellowbearshop.com on April 30, 2010