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It’s always nice to see a traditional business go online and be successful. That’s what happened to Dr. Dhavid Cooper and Guy Hodgson of FramesDirect.com, www.framesdirect.com. They moved the process of buying eyeglasses and sunglasses from a brick-and-mortar location into an online success, selling over 1,000,000 pairs of glasses since 1996. Let’s find out how they did it from Dr. Cooper…
Tell us why you started FramesDirect.com.
Dr. Guy Hodgson and I had been in practice operating several offices in Houston since 1986. We’d worked very hard at developing these practices over a nine-year period and wanted to take a break from practice and from business for a while. In 1994, the opportunity arose to sell all the offices, which we did. We then took a year off. During this time off, I did some practice-management seminars throughout the world, traveled and self-published a book called “101 Secrets of a Million Dollar Office.”
A year later, in 1996, Dr. Hodgson and I got together to figure out what our next venture was going to be. We decided that whatever the venture was, it had to operate 24/7 and have the ability to serve a national market. These were the primary parameters at the time. We didn’t know what it would be or how we were going to do it. We then set up office space with a refracting lane and optical dispensary on the third floor of a six-story building, rather than at street level or near a shopping area. We did this intentionally to force ourselves to think and get imaginative.
In 1996, the Web was in its infancy, and I had just learned about Windows 95 from my brother. I found it quite intriguing. I got a copy of Microsoft Front Page and taught myself how to create a Web page and put 10 sunglass images online. We had formed a new company, Frames For America, Inc., under which we were going to evolve the new idea(s), but I wanted something shorter and snappier. One day, I happened to be looking at box of paper I’d received from a company called Paper Direct. Within minutes, Frames Direct was born.
The overall goal was to somehow provide round-the-clock eyewear services to the entire nation Remember that at this time, selling anything online was a novelty and very much experimental, much less something as complicated as eyewear.
Someone suggested we register the name as a dot-com, which we did. And FramesDirect.com became official in the latter part of 1996.
You’ve sold 1,000,000 glasses since 1996. What is your secret to this success?
We have absolutely the best customer service team in the industry. All of our customer service reps are certified opticians, experts in the field, who work very hard to make sure our customers get exactly what they want.
Additionally, we go to great lengths to ensure that our Website is easy to use, offers exactly what consumers are looking for and works properly. Having a well structured site that works well helps our consumers find exactly what they’re looking for out of the hundreds of thousands of products we sell, which is another key to our success. Not only do we offer far more eyewear options than you’d find in a local eyewear store, but we have simply the largest eyewear catalog… period.
How have you spread the word about your business?
We drive Website traffic through several different channels, but our primary sources are search engines. We’ve worked very hard to optimize our Website’s pages so that they rank well in Google and other search engines when people go online searching for “eyeglasses” and related terms.
Back when we first launched the site, when the Internet was still fairly new, we wondered about this exact question. If we put a site out there on the Internet how are people going to find it? I started to notice that if I made certain changes to our Web pages it would affect how well or not they showed up in Yahoo! search (this was back before Google). Optimizing Web pages in this way, or doing search engine optimization, is an important part of any online business. But at the time, such a thing didn’t really exist as a formal practice. I was just trying things out to try and pull more traffic from Yahoo! search.
To this day, search engine optimization remains one of our primary strategies for driving traffic to FramesDirect.com.
What marketing tactics have been most successful for you and why?
SEO has been most successful for us, but we also do pay-per-click advertising, email marketing and some re-targeting banner advertising. Currently, we are exploring television advertising as a means to not only get traffic to FramesDirect.com, but to inform consumers at large that buying eyewear online is a viable option. Believe it or not, most people still are not aware of this.
What tips do you have for other online businesses just starting out?
It’s not so hard to launch an ecommerce Website these days, but the bigger question is how you’re going to drive traffic and visitors to your Website. Solve that question first before you get too far into any online business planning. This way, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money and stress.
It’s also important to provide quality services and credible information to your customers. If you think about their needs, rather than just making a profit, you’ll be much more successful. Plus, the search engines will recognize your Website as a place that provides valuable content, and you’ll receive higher rankings.
Thanks for the great insights Dr. Cooper! If you’d like to find out more about FramesDirect.com, visit their site here. And for more information to help you with your PR and SEO activities, please write to me below or at www.rembrandtwrites.com.