Today, we asked one of the top managers of the Simtech Group of Companies to share his experience in eCommerce site development. Oleg has been in programming for at least 15 years, and more than 5 years he managed our custom development department. Few people know that besides being an CTO, he is also a solo-entrepreneur for 8 years. Here we’ll unveil the curtain on digital entrepreneurship and tell the story of how Oleg developed a successful online pet store that caused the closure of 50+ brick-and-mortar stores in his region during two years.
How did you come up with the idea to create your own website?
It all started in 2014. I picked up a dog in the street. And we faced a question: how to feed it. After searching for dog food in local stores, I didn’t find anything sensible. There was nothing suitable on marketplaces either. Offline stores sold small packages. However, for a customer this option is not profitable compared to small wholesale. The search for a relevant offer did not give results: there was nothing suitable in the city. I looked through the Internet for wholesale deliveries in my city, and found the only supplier with only one brand, Royal Canin. He did not want to ship one pack at a time, so I had to take a large batch. At that moment, an idea came to my mind: Why not try to create my own online store. My wife and I launched the store fairly quickly.
How did you choose the technological stack? Why CS-Cart?
The choice of platform was obvious. At work, I dealt with the CS-Cart platform, and I took it as a basis. There were, of course, attempts to choose another platform: I considered cloud solutions. The CS-Cart solution at that time was also cloud-based. Eventually, I settled on the stack that was familiar the most, and we launched the store on CS-Cart. We did not have an urgent need for a quick start, because for me it was more of an elective, and for my wife it was an occupation while being on maternity leave. I did the basic setup of CS-Cart, and taught my wife the platform settings. We had no office, no physical shops at that time.
Cloud CS-Cart was suitable for a start. To test a hypothesis, this is the optimal option. A year or two after the launch, as the business grew, I needed additional integrations. The cloud solution does not allow large modifications. What platform to migrate? I chose the product from the same CS-Cart line: an on-premise CS-Cart license. I bought hosting and moved to a new version. They helped me with the replatforming, and uploaded the database. I restarted pretty fast on the default version with the Cloud hosting and the ability to make customizations.
How did the website launch process go step by step? Were there any challenges?
There were no problems with the launch of the site, because I am a developer myself, and the product is familiar to me. In addition, on the cloud version, the launch is very simple: you just need to register and perform basic settings. To mention a challenge, there was one – training of my only manager – my wife (he laughs, editor comments) – to use the platform. I wrote some instructions on adding products and rules for importing images and explained the structure and options. In two months, my spouse mastered the setup. These skills were more than enough for the first time when it was necessary to populate the product feed.
Speaking step by step, the launch process looked like this:
- We registered
- Added the company data and the first products
- Configured shipping methods and styles
- Launched the store
- The site got indexed by search engines
- We connected analytics systems (Yandex.Metrica and Google Analytics).
I helped build aviaries and clean them up. In return, they reposted my posts and directed targeted traffic to my site. A couple of months after the launch, the first order came. It was on the other side of town. By this time, my wife was already pessimistic about the idea of her own store. Fortunately, the project was not the only source of income, so we persevered towards the goal.
As the store developed, we began to acquire additional services
We connected a CRM system and telephony, Yandex mail. There was not enough space for the products. So, at first we stored everything right at home. Then we began to expand: more brands, new suppliers, two retail premises. We started hiring employees.
I can conventionally divide our progress in 4 stages:
- from 0 to 50 orders per month. This stage took two years. It was organic growth only, which did not require investments
- from 50-200 orders. We opened an office, moved goods there.
- 200-600 orders. We started advertising. Telephony and CRM were connected. We hired a courier.
- 1500 orders. The product base has expanded to 2000 units. We opened the second office.
Are there any customizations on the site?
I can describe customizations challenge-wise.
- Keeping the actual in-stock data. We took orders on the website and did not know if the supplier had the product in stock or we would have to wait for it under the order. We could not provide our own supplies. There were no resources at the initial stage. Therefore, after receiving the order, I had to call the supplier and make sure that the goods were available. Over time, resources appeared, and we began to form our stocks: the most marketable items are stored in the warehouse. The CRM system, using the specified algorithms and the history of user behavior, can predict the need for a new purchase from suppliers. So, we managed to increase customer retention with predictive CRM integration.
- Confusion with orders. The courier or managers could have mixed up the packaging and shipped the wrong food. To solve this problem, I started developing tools designed to help employees. One of the tools is scanning the barcode on the package to make sure that the order is correct for shipment. Next, I developed a system in which it was possible to form a route based on current orders – list of products with barcodes. The employee scans the barcode – a request is sent to the server of the store, where the barcode is compared with the goods for shipment. Notification is issued that this product is present in today’s delivery, or the order is incorrect and needs to be rechecked. The number of incorrect shipments has decreased from 10% to zero. As the courier progresses through the delivery list, he marks the delivery of the goods so that the system could refresh this data on the store side.
- At some point, we were closely engaged in customer service. A CRM system was needed to analyze clients, since CS-Cart being primarily a content management system could not cover all our requirements. We took the Retail CRM integration provided by default, connected it to the store and configured it for our needs.
Current state and future plans
Now, we have plans to expand to other regions and set up payment acceptance on the site. Currently, payment on the site is not accepted due to legal subtleties.
Tips for inspiring entrepreneurs
1. Don’t be afraid. A couple of months without results is also a result. This is food for thought: to understand what and where goes wrong and fix it. Perhaps customers do not come to you because of high prices, or you do not conduct enough marketing activities, or do not use additional channels for promotion.
2. Work with suppliers. Suppliers are ordinary people, it is possible and necessary to negotiate with them. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts. By default, no one gives discounts, but they can agree to meet a budding entrepreneur.
3. Do not be afraid to work yourself. The first time I was -a developer, a courier and a seller at once. Seeing the goal, slowly go to it. If you don’t give up, everything will come with time.
4. Decide on the target audience. The choice of goods, price segment (high or low), competitive strategy (compete on service or price) will depend on this. We chose more affluent people as the target audience and focused on the service and ways to solve customer problems.
5. Do not spray. When the first success came to me, I decided to immediately open a second coffee shop. I had an established client base and employees. Why not use the accumulated resources and open another store. But in reality, everything turned out to be not so simple. I just didn’t have the time and strength. So, I decided to focus on one business. Despite the fact that I still believe in serial entrepreneurship, it is better to do it full-time, and not in breaks from the primary activity.