A few years ago, Brent Densford found himself with the kind of problem every entrepreneur hopes to encounter. Shortly after opening up shop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, his company BeachRC couldn’t handle its foot traffic.
With products flying off the shelves (so to speak), Densford and his small team needed to find a way to fulfill the demand without overwhelming their small location with tons of inventory.
BeachRC offers niche products for R/C vehicle, drone, helicopter and plane enthusiasts. CEO Densford opened the shop as a one-man passion project, building out every detail himself, including the shop’s indoor dirt race track. The idea was to give shoppers a one-of-a-kind destination where they could purchase products and accessories, test in-house rental vehicles and bring their own vehicle for practice, maintenance or repair.
Densford decided on a two-pronged strategy:
- The brick-and-mortar store would move to a larger, 15,000-square-foot space.
- He would take the plunge and open an online store.
This would not only give the company more room for inventory; it would give them a new channel through which to sell it, reducing the risks associated with acquiring more product.
How BeachRC decided to move online
But great rewards don’t come without risks, and Densford had a number of hurdles to overcome along the way.
How would he maintain his thriving brand presence in an online environment? Would he be forced to abandon his POS solution, Square, in order to make the online store work? Was there a way to manage inventory across his physical and online stores without driving his small team crazy?
These were all questions he answered in the platform evaluation stage. Though the logistical questions seemed daunting, the upside was undeniable.
“We ended up growing so fast that we were putting inventory on top of inventory, and our customers coming in couldn't find anything,” Densford said. “We found a new location we're at now, which is almost 15,000 square feet, and our showroom grew to 2,500 square feet from 500. Now, we're already almost running out of room again.”
Besides saving space, Densford had a number of goals in mind when deciding to open an ecommerce shop. Setting up shop online opened up BeachRC to a much, much greater audience that would never have encountered their brick-and-mortar — aka, all the people who don’t find themselves in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Additionally, building an online store would allow BeachRC to branch out and sell specialty products that walk-in customers may not typically be searching for. BeachRC’s move to the online space would enable them to stock a wider variety of products that served their niche audience — 7,000+ products, to be exact.
An online presence also gave BeachRC the opportunity to build deeper relationships with their customers. Repeat customers are retailers’ bread and butter, often making up to 80 percent of revenue. By building an email outreach and promotions strategy, BeachRC created a way for past customers to continue buying from the shop even if they never set foot on Myrtle Beach.
“We use Square to collect email addresses and usually send out a coupon code once or twice a month,” Densford said. “Most of the people that come in are in-store customers that are local or visiting, but we like to throw in a website coupon code too. This year, I'm going to focus more on trying to get good analytics on these coupons converting [in-store customers] into website sales.”
But then the questions surrounding specific, day-to-day operations crept back up, forcing Brent to confront them on his quest to expand his business to online sales.
Challenge 1: Choosing an ecommerce platform that played nicely with their POS
When it came time to build the online store, Densford knew he needed an ecommerce platform that could fit his company’s specific needs.
But deciding on an ecommerce platform is easier said than done, especially when the platform’s capabilities need to fit into an existing business process.
Densford considered Shopify, but quickly ruled them out. “Platforms like Shopify have internal point-of-sale systems, and that just wasn’t going to work for us.”
BeachRC already utilized Square for in-store payments, and Densford didn’t want to have to launch a new POS while becoming an online seller for the first time. So he sought a platform that could sync with Square to streamline the online launch and keep things simple for his staff.
Densford also required a platform that would sync inventory seamlessly. He knew that an inventory error could result in an unhappy customer — a risk he was not willing to take as a small business owner who takes pride in the value delivered to every shopper.
Many of his in-store customers buy more than one product at a time, and nearly all of his products have a UPC code, making a barcode scanner the easiest way to check out brick-and-mortar customers and keep inventory up-to-date on their internal systems.
Ultimately, Densford chose BigCommerce to power his online store, citing the ease of use and customization capabilities as the drivers of his decision.
“BigCommerce was the only platform that offered an inventory integration for both the website and brick-and-mortar location through Square,” Densford said. “It was also really important that the ecommerce platform we use be simple, and that I wouldn’t have to put a lot of time in or hire anybody to do design work.
“Having all of that be plug-and-play on BigCommerce just made it really simple for me to get right into it and start selling. I also love that I can add products to the store and understand how everything is working through the analytics –– all without too much headache.”
Challenge 2: Taking their inventory from rack to screen
BigCommerce’s team even worked with Densford to bring the barcode scanning process online, writing a script that allowed the BeachRC team to upload all of their inventory to BigCommerce’s Channel Manager with their existing in-store scanner.
This made uploading new inventory to the online store as simple as a swipe, and also meant in-store and online inventory would automatically stay up-to-date as the same UPC codes are used across channels to check out and return items.
A few years after launching the site, about 80 percent of BeachRC’s sales still happen in-store, meaning inventory syncing remains of the utmost importance. BeachRC also brings a shoppable trailer to events, and finds the combination of Square and BigCommerce to be a reliable backbone for these “mobile” sales as well.
The best part for BeachRC’s busy CEO? It only took one week for BeachRC to prep and launch their fully designed and customized BigCommerce online store.
Challenge 3: Expanding to Amazon
Soon, the BeachRC team recognized another growth opportunity by expanding to Amazon.
While the momentous opportunity to reach new audiences and grow revenue through Amazon was undeniable, Densford was hesitant about adding yet another learning curve for his team.
But once he discovered he could manage Amazon listings and sales through his existing BigCommerce Channel Manager and Control Panel, rather than Amazon’s Seller Central, he was sold.
“I would have never gone out to put products on Amazon on my own,” Densford said. “The fact that it was going to be easy to integrate directly through BigCommerce is why I did it; and now, we see one out of every ten orders coming to us through Amazon.”
The company utilizes Amazon as a conversion channel all its own. BeachRC only hosts a couple thousand of their products on Amazon, leaving the bulk of products listed exclusively on their website.
Customers can get a sample of the company’s offerings on Amazon, before moving on to their website to learn — and buy — more. BeachRC also lists products that are dated or less relevant to their core offerings on Amazon, which helps solve the issue of inventory growing stale and taking up in-store shelf space.
This also helps BeachRC reduce the number of returns they receive, as they only sell products on Amazon that are straightforward and have a large profit margin. Since integrating with Amazon, BeachRC has accumulated $15,944 in new revenue through the channel.
It has also proven to Densford that multi-channel selling is possible and viable for his business, as well as manageable, laying the foundation for more channel expansion in the future should he choose to do so.
Challenge 4: Getting the word out
Marketing is another big question mark for many shop owners expanding to the online retail world, and Densford was no exception. With so many marketing channels to choose from — including Facebook ads, Google Adwords, email and content marketing — he was drowning in a deluge of options.
Densford’s solution? Because most customers still shop in the brick-and-mortar, BeachRC doesn’t spend much time or money on online advertising. Instead, they utilize their email list to cultivate return customers.
When a customer checks out at the brick-and-mortar location, they input their email and phone number into Square in order to receive a digital receipt. BeachRC leverages this opportunity to include coupon codes and discounts in each customer’s receipt, encouraging them to return in the future. The company has seen a huge bump in online sales because of these efforts.
In addition to email, BeachRC has grown their online sales through the most cost effective option there is: organic search engine traffic (or “SEO”). While this often requires a lot of concerted effort to format metadata and ensure proper site structure, BigCommerce had the built-in features and functionality to take most of the burden off of Densford’s staff.
Today, BeachRC is thriving across multiple channels, thanks to Densford’s strategic approach: keeping operations streamlined and easy to integrate every step of the way.
By choosing a platform that integrated smoothly with his POS provider, Square — and even allowed him to manage Amazon sales — the online transition he initially feared ended up bringing an all-around boost to his business, minus the complexity and instability he successfully avoided.
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