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Traditional Marketing in an Online World: The Blinds.Com Story

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When you think of e-commerce in its simplest form, you think of a store (website), a product (or service), merchandising (online marketing), a way to take orders (a shopping cart) and a way to take money (a merchant processor). That's it!

But you still have to provide value. You still have to offer something different from the competition, and you still have to increase your visibility to potential buyers. You need to stake out a niche and carry out all the marketing fundamentals, exactly as you would a traditional brick-and-mortar retail store. Jay Steinfeld, founder, owner and CEO of Blinds.com, took all these factors into consideration in 1994, during the dot-com boom. With little technological savvy, Jay entered the online world. He had an idea, he had $1,500, he had retail experience running a drapery store and he had some guts. He launched a simple, one-page website.

At the time, shopping carts and online merchant processors were not commonplace on the Internet. Jay spent time and money getting his company listed high in the most popular search engines. He solicited links for his site and soon had over 1,000 inbound and reciprocal links. He made sure the right online ordering system was on his site. With these elements in place, he rode the fast track to success.

Jay implemented and managed the right fundamentals for his online retail business, much as a brick-and-mortar retail store would:
  • Serve a unique niche market
  • Make it easy to buy
  • Create and maintain a presence with your target market
  • Ally yourself with others
  • Offer something unique or better than what is currently available in the marketplace

Jay knew online success depended on making the buying process easy. Emphasizing functionality over aesthetics, Blinds.com was listed as one of the top 200 in Internet Retailer Top 500 (even ahead of Nike), and Internet Retailer identified it as the tenth fastest-growing e-commerce company.

Part of Blinds.com's success depends on things brick-and-mortar retail operations don't or can't do:

A. Blinds.com carries no physical inventory. They operate on a just-in-time, made-to-order manufacturing business model.
B. Customers pay for orders online, prior to the custom blinds being made so Blinds.com has no accounts receivables.
C. Blinds are drop shipped from a variety of suppliers.

Blinds.com started its online life as nobrainerBlinds.com. Four years later, Jay changed the name to Blinds.com. He found the most popular domain name in the blinds business and purchased it. This was an exceptional strategic move that gave his company a competitive edge. It also helped search engine rankings, especially when prospects typed in "blinds" as a direct navigation term. At the time, the domain name resale market was just evolving and heating
up. Jay spent well into six figures for the Blinds.com domain name, but it was a strategic move that has paid for itself many times over.

How well is this model working for Blinds.com? Typically a Walmart superstore will do an estimated $600 to $700 in business per square foot of space. Blinds.com has a small office and area for order processing that generates close to $8,000 per square foot.

What's next for Blinds.com? Jay Steinfeld realized his firm wasn't a blinds company. It was a direct marketing company. With his processes, procedures, methods and marketing, he discovered he had a formula for extending that model to other complex, customizable products for consumers. His newest venture,
under the umbrella of Global Custom Commerce, will offer a variety of products online. These products are unrelated to blinds and may not even be related to the home at all. Scale and a reproducible business model are the keys.