Many entrepreneurs have many beginnings, endings and renewals woven in their stories. The path of any entrepreneur is rarely a straight line. I started Blindster with the firsthand knowledge of the sometimes wayward road self-employment can take and the successes that can present themselves when one least expects it.
Striking out on my own
My entrepreneurial path came about after deciding my dream for a career in the NFL was likely to be unfulfilled. I earned a marketing degree from Troy University and then went to work for Black and Decker. Promoted four times in five years, I showed a quick aptitude for business.
After tiring of the corporate grind, I set out to blaze my own trail in 1999 with my first business. With very little knowledge of e-commerce or self-employment, I began the first e-commerce website for custom window treatments.
I was based out of my garage. I did it all: I answered customer calls and emails, processed orders, and managed marketing and accounting, but after a few months, I hired my mother to handle the administrative side of the business.
The business quickly became a family affair as sales exploded. I eventually hired my wife, brother, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, aunt, uncle and two cousins to help run the business. The venture experienced triple-digit growth over the first few years following its inception.
I eventually ran out of family and friends to hire, but the business kept growing!
In 2005, after growing the business by leaps and bounds, I decided to sell the business to Home Depot.
The starting and building of a wildly successful business venture can be a crazy ride, one that can quickly put even the strongest of individuals off ever owning a business again. However, after selling my first e-commerce business to Home Depot in 2005, I didn’t wait long.
In 2010, after waiting out a noncompete agreement, I launched Blindster, an e-commerce provider of high-quality, custom window treatments. Blindster’s e-commerce approach gives consumers complete control over their window covering purchases. It was a bigger, better approach than my original business.
Once I got the idea to reenter the industry, I started by creating a business plan with the main objective of differentiating myself.
I poured my savings into the new venture, including the earnings from that sale to Home Depot. Even though I had been successful, I still faced the uphill battle of building brand recognition and traffic. At the outset, customer acquisition costs can be high. It takes time and attention to build brand loyalty and retain customers.
It takes risks and persistence to eventually work through the struggles.
In Blindster’s first year, I spent half a million dollars in pay-per-click advertising. In the company’s first three years, advertising held 40% of the revenue. The business was experiencing something many new companies do, and it was losing money. Having a background in business building, I knew not to panic but attribute this loss to the cost of doing business. By Year 6, Blindster was cash-positive.
I was well aware that in any competitive industry, ad costs will be high to stand strong among giants. The company I had sold to Home Depot became a direct competitor.
One of the most critical aspects of building my business was hiring people I could trust. I kept family in the business, including bringing my mother and sister-in-law back to help build Blindster. After being burned by a developer who didn’t complete his contract, a new developer finally helped get the e-commerce site up and running.
Obsession with customer satisfaction
We are obsessed with customer service at Blindster. Customer happiness is greatly valued, and this has led to a lot of repeat business, something atypical of niche products like blinds.
I understand that not everyone has the aptitude for measuring, choosing, and installing blinds and other window coverings. Each customer service representative at Blindster goes through extensive product knowledge training.
Blindster offers a unique experience to each customer that sets them apart from other e-commerce sites that offer window coverings.
One of our main selling points is our Fit-or-Free guarantee. This was unheard of when we first started, especially because our blinds are a custom product. This guarantee removed the customer’s concern about measuring incorrectly. The goal is to make customers feel comfortable ordering a custom product online.
A new advertising medium
Another turning point for Blindster was its foray into radio advertising in 2015.
Because we don’t sell impulse-buy products, brand building is more important. We were able to build our brand more cost-effectively through this medium as opposed to pay-per-click.
As social media marketing has become more necessary to build a brand, Blindster has moved into blog collaborations, thought leadership, and podcast participation.
Blindster is proof positive that you can always have more than one success story. It took everything I had learned and a dedication to customer satisfaction. With no fear about starting from scratch, I built one of the top online retailers for window coverings in the United States.