There's something that draws people to journals, says e-commerce merchant Samantha Webster. Perhaps, she muses, it's a desire for immortality.
"We write down our thoughts, our experiences and our hopes for the future, and those thoughts are made real [in journals]," Webster says. "They're actually there, solid and bound together into leather, defying technological advances. They can then be left for future generations to read."
Webster and her husband, Jason Lineham, who together own Earthworks Journals on Auctiva Commerce, have always enjoyed journals. Lineham is an avid journal writer, and although Webster isn't much of a diary person, herself, she's a faithful list writer, and carries a small notebook everywhere she goes.
"I like to think of my notebook as my own portable hard-drive," she offers.
Earthworks Journals is filled with leather journals the couple makes in their Northampton, England, workshop. The duo has been selling journals since Wednesday, June 8, 2005—they still have the first order pinned up on their office wall to prove it.
People will always like the idea of having a personalized item made especially for them
Webster and Lineham have long been filled with the entrepreneurial spirit. As a child, Webster recalls, she made items so her grandmother could sell them to friends.
"When Jason was a kid, he used to dream of being able to earn a living from doing something that he loved, rather than working for someone else," she adds. "When we met 20 years ago, our creative dreams just sort of meshed together, and the seed that was to become Earthworks Journals was planted."
Selling homemade journals in a world of mass-produced items can be challenging, Webster admits. One of the biggest hurdles the couple faces is staying competitive with larger companies, who can offer mass-produced journals at lower rates. Luckily, the quality of Earthworks Journals and the fact that they are homemade have made them very appealing to buyers.
"People will always like the idea of having a personalized item made especially for them," Webster notes.
She says this is evident in the ways customers use the journals. Some shoppers buy them to record special occasions, like weddings or the birth and growth of their children. Terminally ill people have used them to record their last thoughts for their kids. And travelers have taken them around the world to record their adventures.
"Soldiers have used them as war diaries," she adds. "We've even had one customer take one of our journals to the top of Mount Everest."
The husband and wife team began selling journals at craft fairs throughout the U.K. They made the diaries during the week and sold them on weekends. But the craft fairs were unpredictable. Attendance varied, and the British weather didn't help, Webster notes. Events often got rained out. At one time, the couple worried they might have to "get proper jobs."
"But then we got the idea of trying the Internet," Webster recalls. "It literally saved our business!"
When the couple first went online, they sold on eBay, using Auctiva's eBay listing tools for their products. However, they knew, even then, they wanted their own online store. They liked offering their items on eBay but wanted a site where they could provide customers with more information about their business.
"We needed somewhere that we could showcase us," Webster explains.
So when Auctiva introduced its Auctiva Commerce software, the couple saw their opportunity and took it. "We jumped at the chance!" Webster says.
"The Auctiva sites are so user friendly, they really make it easy to get your brand image across. It helps us provide our customers with background information about us and gives them a feel for what we do and who we are," she adds.
The Auctiva sites are so user friendly, they really make it easy to get your brand image across
Commerce makes store setup easy
Webster admits that neither she nor Lineham were very computer literate before they started building their online store, but Auctiva Commerce's software made setting up easy.
"We love how easy Auctiva Commerce makes everything," she explains. "Using an Auctiva template and hastily acquired knowledge of HTML, we have created what we hope is a professional looking Web site that's tailored to our brand image."
Since opening their store in July 2009, sales have been strong. October is the busiest month, as shoppers start preparing for the holidays. Things typically slow down in March and April, but submitting merchant feeds to Google has helped attract buyers year 'round, the seller notes.
The couple's design strategy was simple: Keep the site minimal, easy to navigate and uncluttered. This meant limiting font styles "to bring a contemporary edge."
"We hope that it's reminiscent of old bookstores and libraries, and brings to mind thoughts of traditional craftsmanship," she says.
That clean look seems to work well for customers, who often mention that the site's simplicity and easy navigation makes it inviting. "We have been told by customers that they find it friendly," Webster says.
The best of new and old worlds
The couple continues to be amazed by how many visitors they get from various parts of the world, at any time of the day. They no longer have to worry about packing their journals in their car and traveling to craft shows, or about whether the attendance at these shows will make their efforts worthwhile. Their items are now accessible to anyone with an Internet connection at any time.
"Your shop is never closed; it's open worldwide, 24 hours a day," Webster explains. "I can be selling when I'm sleeping. And instead of having to travel all over the U.K. to find customers at craft fairs, we can now concentrate on making the journals and let our customers find us."
While the World Wide Web can be a faceless, impersonal marketplace, the couple has found there's still room for a "personal touch," Webster explains. "Just small things like sending each customer a personal e-mail to say 'thank you' goes a long way in building customer confidence."
The couple's "old-fashioned" customer service helps them stay in the good graces of buyers and keeps customers coming back. Webster adds that they take customer service so seriously that they often receive e-mails from past customers telling them how happy they are with their journals—and that they were so happy with the service they received that they recommended the store to friends and family.
"We believe that if someone is giving you their hard-earned money, they really should be treated with respect," she says.
So, what advice does the couple give to new online sellers?
"Sell a good product for a good price and be nice to your customers," Webster says. "That's about it, really. All of the minor ins and outs of running a business can be easily found online."
Visit Earthworks Journals on Auctiva Commerce.