Gena Cornett of BabyFleecies.com
To say Gena Cornett is ambitious would be an understatement. While creating just one successful online store is a major achievement by any measure, she's launched five in the past year—and she has no plans to stop there.
"My goal is to have 20 more niche-based sites within the next three to five years," says Cornett, whose sites include BabyFleecies, Christmas and Holiday Décor, Comfort Wearables and Western Home, among others. "I'm a believer that the more lines you have in the water, the more fish you'll catch."
It's a good thing she has a background in nursing and a master's degree in business—two disciplines that would benefit any online entrepreneur.
"The nursing part takes care of the handholding, for sure," she laughs.
With the exception of her original site, Fleecies.com, which she built from scratch in 2002, each of Cornett's sites is designed around a very specific product niche, a strategy that helps focus her marketing and advertising efforts while also increasing the likelihood that visitors will become customers.
People don't search for general terms. If they do, you haven't yet qualified them as your buyer
It was a deliberate departure from the "general store" approach that seems to be prevalent among merchants who came up on eBay.
"On eBay, you can generalize," she explains. "On your own website, you have to really focus, because search engines want to know what your site it about."
So do many of today's online buyers. And it's these "prequalified customers" that Cornett is hoping to reel in.
"It seems like people don't search for general terms," she says. "If they do, you haven't yet qualified them as your buyer. If someone is looking for bedding in general, they haven't necessarily decided what they want. But if they come in looking for Western bedding, or cowgirl bedding or turquoise cowgirl bedding, they have a pretty good idea in their head of what they're looking for."
Jumped right in
Cornett considers herself to be "one of those independent sorts" who likes to be her own boss. So when the World Wide Web first opened up, she instantly saw it as a chance to have the kind of freedom she sought to operate a business while staying home with the kids.
Her first e-commerce venture, about 15 years ago, was a leather store, which she eventually closed after run-in with a scammer. Then eBay came along, and she took to selling odds and ends on the site, until keeping up with the garage sale circuit became tedious.
"I wanted stuff I could list once and repeat the listing over and over," she says. "That's when I started looking around for wholesale products I liked."
Despite being able to make pretty good money on eBay, Cornett still believed the greatest opportunity for growth was on a Web site all her own. With nothing to lose, she decided to design a site using FrontPage software, and Fleecies.com was born. Today, the site is her main source of revenue. It features a wide assortment of blankets, pillows, bedding and décor, and after many years of fine tuning, it ranks highly in search engines and brings in a lot of traffic, she says.
Still, Cornett wanted more advanced functionality than she was capable of building herself. An experiment with eBay's ProStores produced Inspire Home, an inspirational home décor and gift shop. But what she gained in functionality she gave up in complexity of the software. "It's such a chore to work on that site," she says.
If shoppers can get coupons without leaving the site, they're more likely to buy something
In Auctiva Commerce, Cornett found both the wide range of features and ease of use she was looking for. "It's so easy to work on, and there are so many functions and things I can do that now I've just gone to town!" she says of the several sites she's opened using the software suite.
One of the features she likes about Auctiva Commerce is the ability to easily create custom pages. On several of her sites she's added a coupons page, where buyers can get coupon codes to redeem right on the site. If shoppers have to go search the Web to find store coupon, they're less likely to return; but if they can get it without leaving the site, they're more likely to buy something, Cornett reasons.
She may be onto something. Combined sales from her Auctiva Commerce stores average $700 to $1,000 a month—and that's only the beginning.
"It can take six to nine months before a site starts to fully rank in Google," she acknowledges. "And I think the more I add inventory and work on optimizing my keywords and linking with other sites, it's just going to grow. But I find that I'm getting orders and customers from the Google product feeds, so that is helping a lot to get my sites known."
"My goal is to eventually move everything over to Auctiva Commerce, and hopefully I can connect multiple stores in one interface," she says. "I can see the possibilities with the new Auctiva Marketplace Platform."
A long-term commitment
The next few months will be busy for Cornett, as she works to optimize her sites while adding inventory and ramping up her marketing. While she has a blog and some social media activity associated with her Fleecies.com site, she hasn't put as much effort into these as she'd like.
"I'm planning over the next six months to get one Facebook/Twitter feed that will emphasize products, marketing and sales on all of my sites," she says.
It's a lot for one person to undertake, and at times it can be overwhelming, she admits. But Cornett takes it in stride.
"I try to be organized, and pick a site each day to focus on," she explains. "I try to work on all my sites at least once a week. I figure, it may be baby steps, but as long as I'm making progress on all of them, it will all come together to move them forward—and I am seeing progress.
"You've got to think of it as a long-term strategy," she adds. "It's not going to happen overnight."
Visit Comfort Wearables and Western Home.