When the owners of Posters.com came to me I was shocked to hear that they didn’t even have a website. But they did have a plan… a brilliant plan to increase the value of their domain buy promoting the brand, cultivating a large customer-base, establishing a steady revenue stream. That is where we came in.
For those of you who like to read the end of the book first, I’ll give you the ending first…
Long story short; we established a supply chain and customer service, developed a fully automated system to accept orders, submit them to order fulfillment company, and keep the catalog up to date… without the owners of posters.com having to hire any employees. We increased traffic to the site by ___ %, resulting in the sale of millions of dollars of posters in a two year period. Which, in the end, resulted in posters.com being sold for $3 million dollars – an amount double what they were offered before we put everything in place. And the owners of posters.com got what they wanted.
Now for the back-story…
Starting from scratch is liberating in a sense because it meant we wouldn’t be burdened with legacy systems and ways of thinking that sometimes (always) stifle progress. However, it also meant that we are at ground zero, looking up at a huge mountain or work we had to summit, and we had to get it done in four months.
Step one was to get the supply chain in place – remember they came to us with no product, no customer service or order fulfillment employees, and of course, no website or software to manage any of it. One thing they did have was traffic – even though they didn’t have a website, they still had over 90,000 visits to posters.com per month. How is that possible? Direct traffic. Direct traffic is when people type a web address directly into the address bar of their web browser (as opposed to searching for it on Google or clicking a link from another website.) Some just like when some people want to buy flowers, they type in flowers.com, when they want to buy posters, they type in posters.com. Makes sense.
So, back to that we-don’t-have-posters-to-sell-or-employees-to-answer-the-phone-or-fulfill-the-orders problem. We were able to locate and partner with a company that supplied a catalog of posters to us, and agreed to drop ship them to our customers for us. Product and supply chain problem solved. Next, we found a third party to handle customer phone and email support.
We worked with the poster supplier to develop a fully integrated solution for retrieving catalog updates from them automatically. Then, implemented an online catalog system that made browsing and searching the 200,000 posters and prints a breeze. The e-commerce system was also fully automated, in that it automatically sent the orders directly to the order fulfillment companies system. It also pulled order tracking information from their system real-time, so posters.com customers never had any interaction with the poster supplier – everything was done through the posters.com website which made for a great shopping experience.
As I mentioned before, posters.com had a ton of direct traffic, so whatever solution we came up with had to work perfectly from day one. We developed the system in Java using the Struts2 framework, with Hibernate accessing a MySQL database, and the results even impressed me. This system was so fast I couldn’t believe it – in production, under load, the pages results came back lightening fast – and page render times were amazing too.
The first month we processed thousands of orders, and millions of page views without a hitch. And what’s more, we were able to get these results running on a single Linux server. No clusters or no load balancers needed — just a single server running some well designed software. It’s a beautiful thing.
So how reliable was the system? Since the owners of Posters.com didn’t have any IT employees (or any other employees for that matter) we were their go-to if anything came up — which we were okay with, but I didn’t know if we were going to wind up being a “wholly owned subsidiary of posters.com” at some point. I mean, a website that has that much traffic and sales can warrant an entire team… but I rarely got a call from them. I was surprised to be honest with you – the system really was pretty bullet proof. And it ran strong for two years before we shut it down in May of 2010 due to the sale of posters.com.
In the two years that we worked for posters.com, we spent most of our time focused on search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing. This included writing tons of content for the site, link building, etc. The difficult part about markting that product was the diversity of search terms we wanted to rank well for. I mean – if they sold lawn mowers it would have been easy, we market to people searching for “lawn mowers” – but with posters, people are searching for the subject matter of the poster, e.g. “Hanna Montana Posters” or “Ferrari Posters” or even “Taylor Lautner Posters.” As a side not – as long as I live I never want to see another Taylor Lautner poster – but in my line of work, you live and breathe what your client is selling — and posters.com sold a lot of Taylor Lautner Posters. In fact, we ranked #1 for Taylor Lautner Posters on Google. In fact, we were on the first page of Google for a lot of valuable search terms – Sports Posters, College Posters, Fine Art Posters, and Vintage Posters to name a few.
In the end, we were sad to hear posters.com sold – but were happy in knowing the me played a part in helping the owners achieve their dream of selling their domain name for millions of dollars and retiring. We were so inspired by their success, that one of my SEO consultants bought the domain name “posders.com”… a guy can dream, can’t he?