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.”