Small Business Makeover

Family business based in Miami-Dade gets modernizing help

 

Making over a hardware wholesaler

    •  The Business: Central East Warehouse, a Miami-Dade-based hardware wholesaler chiefly serving hotels in South Florida and throughout the Caribbean.

•  The Experts: SCORE Miami-Dade counselors Stuart Dornfield, an award-winning freelance copywriter and creative director and chief marketing officer for the Pink Collective; David Siegel, former owner of Central Hardware in Miami Beach; Todd Paton, an Internet marketing expert and owner of Paton Internet Marketing; and Carlos Blanco, a former sales and marketing executive and founder of Aftermath and ERTexting.

•  The Challenge: Revamp a family-operated hardware wholesaler into an online e-commerce hotel supplier.

•  The Advice: SCORE Miami-Dade’s team of experts started by advising owner Shari Glixman to focus on her core customers — hotels — redesign her brand, and build a new website. The new website, under a new name, will not only allow customers to order online, but ease and increase the company’s online presence by maximizing search-engine tools. The new website, the experts explained, will in effect allow Glixman to create a new, better-run and more sophisticated company based on a scalable model that allows plenty of room to grow.


About SCORE

    Based in Washington, D.C., SCORE is a nonprofit with more than 12,000 volunteers working out of about 400 chapters around the country offering free counseling to small businesses. There are seven chapters on Florida’s east coast, including SCORE Miami-Dade, with more than 80 volunteer counselors.

Counselors from SCORE Miami-Dade meet with small-business owners and offer free one-on-one counseling as well as dozens of low-cost workshops, such as “Simple Steps” for starting a company, a five-part workshop that begins Tuesday.

To volunteer or learn more about SCORE, go to www.score.org or www.miamidade.score.org.


How to apply for a makeover

    Business Monday’s Small Business Makeovers focus on a particular aspect of a business that needs help. Experts in the community will be providing the advice. If you would like a makeover, here’s what you need to do:

Tell us why your business needs a professional makeover. Concentrate on one aspect of your business that needs help — corporate organization, marketing, financing, for example — and tell us what your problems are.

The makeover is open to anyone in business at least two years. The business must be your primary source of income and be based in Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

Email your request to ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com and put “Makeover” in the subject line.


jennyhiaasen@bellsouth.net

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.

“You want someone from Iowa saying, ‘Wow, here’s this big, reliable website,” explained counselor Todd Paton, whose company, Paton Internet Marketing, builds websites and helps businesses increase their virtual presence through search-engine optimization, pay-per-click management, social media and email marketing. “It’s perception, because on the Internet, perception is reality.”

Another big problem: money. The business did not have enough to spend on building a new expensive website or launching a marketing campaign.

So the SCORE group got to work finding cheap solutions, with Paton tackling the biggest issue: the website. The fixes would be doable, but not necessarily easy.

Glixman, Berger and the counselors first addressed the company’s brand. By refining the brand, they defined the business, and agreed that at the initial stage Glixman should focus on her hotel clients. The new business name: HotelReplacementProducts.com. In the future, they pointed out, Glixman could simply swap out the target audience but keep the brand. For example, HospitalReplacementProducts.com

“You’re building category ownership when you build the brand,” explained team leader Stuart Dornfield, chief marketing strategist for Pink Collective and who coined the phrase “Taking Care of Business” for Office Depot.

They then took the new name to 99 designs, a freelance graphics website that allows users to post requests for as little as $299. Berger got back 98 different versions of a new logo.

Paton also suggested Glixman and Berger start shopping for a new website template at themeforest, an affordable alternative to building a custom site. Berger settled on a template for a furniture retailer and Paton connected the company with an associate in India to start constructing the site.

“Building a premium website is critical for you. Five years ago, you would have spent $10,000. But now you don’t have to do that,” he explained.

While Glixman resisted investing too heavily in Internet commerce, fearing it would shortchange her local business and hamper her personal hand in business, the team convinced her otherwise.

“You’re trying to expand the business to a wider geographic area. That doesn’t stop you from expanding locally,” Dornfield said. “Listen to the big picture. With Web marketing, he’s going to help you to get people to your website.”

Or, as Paton explained, “The whole operation is generating business while you’re sleeping.”

And key to the success of that new website is finding it. So Paton conducted a keyword research analysis showing Glixman how often items associated with the business — like door knobs, toilet seats and grab bars — are searched. In rebuilding the site, Paton suggested focusing on 50 items that customers could order online. Using key terms would generate hits and expand the company’s Web presence. The site would also include instructions for obtaining items not listed and make clear that the business can track down requests, so Glixman was not completely surrendering her personal touch.

After several meetings and nearly three months, Glixman and the team emerged with a new website under construction and a new strategy for the future. Glixman also leased new space on North Biscayne River Drive in anticipation of the boost in business.

“The biggest shift is the business strategy and that is focusing on hotel replacement products. That’s led to a new name and they’re embracing the e-commerce model,” Dornfield explained. “Their business could not grow with a three-salesperson team. What we’ve done with e-commerce is add 30,000 salespeople.”

And Glixman is loving her new Internet home, even if it doesn’t come with a broom.

“You guys pushed us to really be on the bandwagon,” she said. “We’re motivated. We’re on fire. Nothing is going to stop us.”

Read more Business Monday stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category