Brandon Eley, author of Online Marketing Inside Out, launched 2BigFeet.com to help men with larger feet find shoes that fit. The company has been growing at roughly 183% per year, year over year, since 2007.
What made you decide to start your business?
We saw firsthand how hard it was to find large size shoes locally. Most stores stopped at size 12, with very few going to 14. Above that, there was nothing to be found. We thought there was an opportunity to sell large shoes online, and we were right.
What factors do you think were most important to making your business a success?
First, we were frugal. We didn’t spend money on the largest warehouse or the nice office furniture. For the first 7 years our desks were folding tables and our chairs were $29 Staples brand office chairs. We still have second hand furniture and computers, and only spend money when it’s absolutely necessary.
We also reinvest a lot back into the company. Instead of pulling the profits out of the business, we reinvest in new styles, more inventory, etc.
Lastly, we never relied on traditional marketing tactics. We tried some print and radio early on and saw very quickly how effective (or ineffective) they were. Since then, we’ve done only online marketing — including email marketing, search marketing — which is far more effective.
What did you do to get the word out about your business when you first started and is this different than what you do now?
When we first started we did everything we could to get the word out. We used banner ads, tried radio, and even had billboards at one point. Most of the advertising we did wasn’t very trackable, but we knew it wasn’t working because we had no traffic.
Now we only do online marketing, which we can track the effectiveness of very closely. It allows us to quickly change our marketing messages to get the biggest bang for our buck.
What are some of your most important marketing tools?
Google Analytics (or any analytics package) is an absolute must. GA allows us to track each campaign independently using special URL’s so we know which ones worked. We also use Google Website Optimizer extensively to test and improve our home page, shopping cart and other key areas of our website.
What is one thing you wish you’d known when you started?
When I started 2BigFeet in 1999 I didn’t know anything about website development or online marketing. I spent the first several years learning as we went. I wish there were great websites and books about online marketing back then, but there weren’t. Fortunately for those starting up now, there are some great resources available.
Did you do everything on your own to get your business where it is today or did you hire help? If you hired professionals, what kind of professionals did you hire that had the greatest impact on your success?
To save money, we did just about everything ourselves. The two times we hired marketing professionals we got burned. The first was a search engine optimization firm that charged us several thousand dollars and delivered absolutely nothing. After six months we finally gave up and started learning SEO ourselves, but the time we lost cost us a lot.
The second professional we hired was a PR firm. We paid them a hefty retainer for 4 or 5 months in hopes that they could get us some media coverage. After paying them several thousand dollars we had not gotten a single article or interview, so again we fired them and did our own PR. Within a few months we were mentioned in several major newspapers, were interviewed on NPR, and were mentioned several times in John Battelle’s bestselling book “The Search.” (Editors Note: We had the exact same experience when we hired PR firms for our online retail business.)
I think one of the biggest reasons we got burnt was that we didn’t have a foundational knowledge of advertising and online marketing. We didn’t know what questions to ask or what to look for in a professional firm. We now routinely outsource tasks to several firms successfully.
What are your most important sources of information for growing your business? (A mentor, certain blogs, magazines, message boards etc)
There are some excellent online resources now that simply weren’t available when we got started. Blogs like Duct Tape Marketing and HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Blog have excellent advice and tutorials. Associations like NFIB and the SBA can also be great sources of information.
I also recommend getting a mentor. Having someone to use as a sounding board for ideas can be really useful. If you don’t know someone who can help, check out your local Score chapter.
Are there any areas of online business you wish you had more expertise on?
I wish I knew more about online marketing when we started, but it just wasn’t an established field then.
Do you see yourself changing your opinion on business advice as you’re progressing in your own business?
I am constantly changing my opinions! While basic principles stay the same, the tactics change often. As our business grows and matures, we are constantly looking for new and better ways to do things. Something that worked well 5 years ago may not work at all today, and there are new platforms (like mobile) emerging every year.
Success stories is a new feature here at Smaller Box. I interview independent online retailers with over $100,000 in annual sales. If you’re an independent online retailer with over $100,000 in annual sales and you’d like to be interviewed, please contact me.