- Online Retailer Has Gifts All Wrapped Up

Orangic gift basket

Baby Gift Baskets even has something for the "Green" moms.

Seven years and seven children ago, Amy McCoy started selling cloth diapers online to help save on family expenses. Guess the change did her good. The online venture has grown to become a successful resource for gift-givers looking for quality, convenience, variety and value. Retailing is definitely not just for brick-and-mortor stores any more. Amy shares her gifts, insights and efforts to juggle a big family and big business!

When and how did you get started in children’s retail?

We started 7 years ago when I was pregnant with my son, Jeffrey. We started out selling wonderful cloth diapers, mostly because we wanted to get them at wholesale! Our business soon took off and we expanded our line to include baby carriers, breastfeeding products and even nutritional supplements for moms…anything baby-related was our focus.

What was your background prior to this business?

I have a degree in civil engineering and my husband was, and still is, a network engineer.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting up?

Juggling the business with family and properly prioritizing our work versus taking care of family needs was something that took time to figure out. We are still figuring that out!

What is one thing you would have done differently?

I think we would have done more research on starting a new business and how to effectively have a presence online. We made many mistakes in the beginning that are quite difficult to undo now.

What do you feel are the three biggest keys to your businesses’ success?

First, it’s important to start a business whose focus is something that you really care about. You will burn out if you start a business that focuses on blue widgets if you have no passion for the blue widget. That is probably the thing that I see others struggle with the most. “What kind of business can I start?”, they say. For us, as the parents of 7 children, a baby- or child-related venture is one that we love. It’s a thrill for me every time I send out a new baby gift basket because of the love and joy of the sender and the wonder of the receiver in having a new baby. I will never get tired of that.

Secondly, you need to know your customer and design your business to meet the needs of that customer. “What are they looking for?”, “What need are they trying to fulfill?” and “How can I effectively help them to find it?” are essential questions to ask yourself. The answers will define the layout of your business, the products that you provide and how you advertise your services. When we moved into the baby gift basket field, we structured everything we did in starting up the new business toward the gift-giving customer and their needs. We also made sure that everything on the Internet related to our store was set up to let search engines know exactly what we offer so that we were indexed properly for the terms for which our customer would be searching. We were very haphazard in the beginning when we sold cloth diapers and did not have the same focus. Subsequently, we did not show up in the search engines like we needed to. For a strong Internet presence, that kind of focus is paramount and we have seen the fruit of it in our baby gift basket venture.

Lastly, you need to be able to manage your business wisely in the financial realm. You need to weigh all of the costs associated with running a business and you need to make sure you are aware of the many hidden costs that come with running a business. This takes time and research if you do not already have a business background and many mistakes will be made if you do not. You also need to make sure that you will be able to charge enough for your services that you provide. You will never be able to stay in business if you cannot cover your costs and also make enough income to make it worth your while. Finding the right prices that customers are willing to pay, that are competitive and bring in enough income for your store also takes research and time is well-spent in doing so. Since we do not come from business or financial backgrounds, some of our learning has come through trial and error, and sometimes your mistakes can be your best teachers!

What types of marketing are most effective for your business?

Happy customers and their word-of-mouth is one of the best types of marketing you can do. We also get baby gift basket recipients who are so pleased and impressed with their gifts, that they come back to our store and send baskets to their friends. So we are sure to have our company name, phone number and Web site address on everything we send out so that gift recipients can find us too.

We have not had much success with online ads, but rather get most of our traffic from organic search results on the major search engines. A slow and steady rise in Internet presence really pays off for those who pursue that route.

How do you evaluate and choose new product lines to pick up?

With baby gift baskets, aesthetics are huge. People purchase from what they can see so we make sure that all of our baskets are put together beautifully so that they are, first and foremost, pleasing to the eye of the beholder. Secondly, we like to make sure that the items in the gift baskets are useful to the mother and baby who will be receiving it. Items like baby blankets, toys, clothes, bibs, and baby lotions are things that any baby will need. The big ta-da is often the baby’s name being embroidered on the bibs, blankets and clothes to give the personalized touch to the gifts. Moms love to see baby’s name on the new goodies! So the products that we offer must be eye-catching but also useful.

Do “green” or eco-friendly concerns weight into your business decisions, and if so, how?

Many moms want to clothe their babies in only organic fabric, so we do offer organic baby gift baskets, organic “baby bunches”, and even diaper cakes that have only organic items in them. These items are made with cotton that has not had any pesticides sprayed on them and have not been bleached, so many moms prefer those items for their babies and we are happy to provide them.

What is one trend you’re currently seeing with customers?

Giving gifts to new babies never goes out of style, so it’s a great market sector in which to be. Babies will always be born and people will always want to send a gift. Many customers are now looking to the Internet to find what they are looking for. The selections on the Net are exponentially bigger than what they will find locally and most customers are willing to pay the shipping cost if they find a baby basket they love. Customers love the ease and convenience of shopping online and as long as they feel that their financial information is safe, they don’t mind purchasing through a secure cart. Time and gas money are saved and they get exactly what they want sent to their loved ones. A win-win situation on both sides.

How does your business make use of the Internet?

We do quite a bit of business over the Internet. We find customers over the Net, we allow them to purchase over the Net, and make our product line visible over the Net. It is a very powerful tool for promoting one’s business.

What is one change/addition that’s had a positive impact for your business in the last year?

One change we made this year was re-thinking the layout of our Web site and making it easier to navigate for our online customers. We already had great confidence in the quality and selection of our gift baskets, but we needed some improvement in our Web site presentation. We separated our baskets out according to categories for which our customers would be looking. Instead of having one big category for “baby gift baskets”, we separated then out into, “baby boy gift baskets”, “baby girl gift baskets”, “neutral baby gift baskets”, “twins baby gift baskets” and the there are categories for personalized baby gifts too. So the customer who knows what they want does not have to sift through hundreds of baskets but can very quickly narrow things down and save themselves a lot of time in finding just the right gift. I have found this change to be monumental in that we have much fewer abandoned carts and more customers who follow through with an actual sale. Having an attractive site that draws the customer in and looks professionally done is also essential.

If you had one piece of advice for someone entering children’s retail today, what would it be?

Make sure children’s retail is something that you love. When I was a teenager, long before I was a mother, I worked in a kids’ toy store. I did not yet have the love of children and babies that I now do and I was not a very good salesperson for toys! Of course, being a mom has changed everything. My attitude and my ability to market that for which I have a passion has greatly changed and I never get tired of it.

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