In 2007 Lauren Altman designed a snazzy beaded zipper pull to liven up her husband Rick’s Northface fleece. After seeing the improvement it made to the fleece, their six-year old daughter Hannah thought it would be fun to make a business out of selling zipper pulls and came up with the name CoolZips.com. Over the next couple of months they started selling the zipper pulls at local art fairs and stores, while Hannah and Rick worked on developing an ecommerce website so they could branch out and sell online. Today they’ve expanded to selling pencil toppers, erasers and other products in addition to zipper pulls, and are so successful that Rick has given up his day job to work full time on the business. But when it comes to important decisions such as choosing product lines that will appeal to their customers, they still turn to their ten-year old daughter, Hannah.
So how did the Altmans grow from one handmade zipper pull to a thriving business that has sold over 300,000 pencil toppers and 150,000 Japanese Erasers, plus hundreds of other must have kids collectible toys? Their story is one of enthusiasm and hard work coupled with trial and error. Lauren believes the key to success is to find something you love doing and putting a new spin on it. The hard work is in continually fine tuning and optimizing to determine what works. Rick continually tweaks their website to test ways to improve conversion rates – for example, while their target audience is clearly kids, they need to ensure that the parent with the credit card feels comfortable that they are a reputable business, so they recently made their phone number much more prominent on the website.
They also constantly experiment with their online advertising messages and by optimizing the keywords they use on their website to increase visits from search engine users. Other areas they have focused on include ensuring that their website is visibly secure, providing a clear, flat-rate, shipping policy and making it easier for customers to find their products on the website. They are currently focusing on improving their shopping cart conversion rates to increase sales. Every time they make a change, they track the results using online analytics software.
The CoolZips® team uses the Internet in other ways to get exposure for their business; they use online Press Release distribution services to get the word out about new product lines, offer promotions to bloggers in exchange for product reviews, they tweet and have a Facebook page. They keep in touch with customers via email marketing, using Constant Contact about once a week to send news about new products and promotions. They also use Google’s AdWords Remarketing service to advertise to people who visited CoolZips.com but didn’t purchase anything.
Their advice to other people interested in starting an online business is:
1. Find something you love doing. If you are passionate about your business, you’ll have a greater chance of success.
2. Know your customers – in CoolZips’ case their products and website need to appeal to kids, but they also need to focus on ensuring that the adults who will be making the purchase are comfortable.
3. Be responsive; if someone sends a question via email, respond immediately, make it easy for people to call with questions. This should improve your online conversion rates on your website.
“Don’t get frustrated with the ups and downs” Lauren advises, “some days we’d feel like somebody turned off the Internet, but then we’d have days that were like Christmas in July!”
All of this seems to be working – in 2009, at eight years old, Hannah successfully launched her own online business, HannahsCoolWorld.com, selling pencil toppers and thanks to a successful Pay Per Click advertising campaign, orders started coming in overnight which has led to $500,000 gross annual sales. This ten year old CEO attends school during the day and then works on her business for 1 or 2 hours every day.
The family is also expanding with a new line of T-shirts and mugs featuring their dog Joey that will provide charitable donations to a variety of causes. In addition, Rick Altman is currently developing a social web application to integrate with Facebook and is now in the position to consider angel investors.
Constant innovation, getting ahead of the competition, and always looking for ways to improve their business seem certain to keep Hannah and her family on the road to success!
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Image via Flickr by ~Dezz~Google+