As a child, Shari Glixman spent a lot of time in her grandfather’s hardware store on Calle Ocho. She decorated brown bags for special customers and, while she can’t remember precisely why, she endlessly counted nails. When she imagines her grandfather now, he always has a broom in his hands.
So when Glixman launched her own hardware business, running a virtual store in the 21st century proved to be a challenge.
“I just have a mind-set that I go shake a hand with a man and have a business,” Glixman said. “Now you say I have to go on the World Wide Web.”
For more than three decades, Glixman and her husband had operated a wholesale hardware company that supplied door handles, hinges, towel bars and hundreds of other hardware accessories to a clientele that included cruise lines and hotels. But four years ago, they decided to divorce and split the business. Glixman’s husband took the cruise customers. Glixman got hotel clients and opened Central East Warehouse out of a storefront on West Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach.
While the company has survived, it is clearly anemic. Its staff of three, including Glixman, has done little to grow its customer base of a few hundred clients, making it hardly able to support the extended family, including Glixman’s six children, nieces, nephews and in-laws, that she hopes to bring into the nest.
“That’s my dream: however many families within the family that this business can support and give swimming pools,” Glixman said.
So earlier this year, daughter Debbi Berger contacted The Miami Herald, asking for a Small Business Makeover. The Miami Herald recruited SCORE Miami-Dade, the local branch of the nonprofit that has helped create more than 70,000 jobs nationwide and start nearly 60,000 businesses by providing advice, seminars and other help through a network of volunteer counselors.
SCORE sent a team with expertise in Internet marketing, branding and finance. It also sent David Siegel, whose family-run Central Hardware in Miami Beach was for nearly five decades a place to schmooze as much as shop. Frank Sinatra once bought a radio there; the Jackson 5 later bought boom boxes.
The team got to work analyzing Glixman’s company and quickly discovered that chief among its problems was its structure.
While Glixman listed products on her website, she was only taking orders by phone. That allowed the staff to offer personal assistance, a fact Glixman proudly asserts. But the site let customers do nothing more than window shop, when what they needed was a checkout line.
The business was also unfocused, supplying whatever a customer requested without refining its product line and zeroing in on a particular market.
“You need to decide fundamentally what business you are in,” said SCORE counselor Carlos Blanco, a former sales and Internet executive who has founded several successful Internet businesses, including Aftermath, a company that handles legal logistics for clients after divorce, and ERtexting, which lets hospitals text emergency room waiting times.
Central also based most of its marketing on word of mouth, relying on referrals or existing customers, without doing much to drum up new business. Glixman wanted to create a sales force, but did not have the revenue to pay for it.
In addition, the company’s website gave the impression of being a mom-and-pop organization, not an efficiently run corporation.