Customer Profile: ScrapYourTrip.com
When it comes to small businesses, "momtrepreneurs" know best.
How do you go from being unemployed to owner of a multimillion-dollar business with 17 employees and 5,000 feet of warehouse space in just 5 years? Julie Swatek of ScrapYourTrip.com did it the "momtrepreneurial" way: by keeping overhead low and using Yahoo! Small Business do-it-yourself tools.
The right niche
Swatek loves to travel, and she also loves to create scrapbooks of her trips. She first dreamed up the idea for her online business about five years ago on a vacation in Utah. Most of the web sites that sold scrapbooking supplies online were generalists. Swatek thought, why not start a site that specializes in supplies for scrapbooks abut people's travels?
"The light bulb went off that this was a way that I could combine two things that I love," said Swatek. "And people go on vacation all the time," she continued. "I specifically picked a business to go into where I wasn't just selling to somebody one time. It takes so much time to gain a customer that I'd rather spend my time trying to keep them," she said.
While Swatek was still mulling over the idea, she found out that the company she was working for was downsizing — and her last day of work was about the same time that her second child was due to be born. "At that point, plan B became plan A," she said. Swatek started creating her online scrapbooking store in her spare time.
"I chose Yahoo!, because I didn't know anything about e-commerce, and somebody that my husband worked with said, 'Take a look at Yahoo! stores — it's really easy.' By the time my husband came home from work that day, I had built the backbone of the store. I was so proud of myself!"
Like most momtrepreneurs, Swatek kept costs low by working out of her home and waiting to hire help until she absolutely had to. A year and a half and three employees later, she realized she'd have to lease warehouse space. "We were working out of a spare bedroom, and we had to put everything away before my son came home from daycare," she said.
U.S. Postal Service's poster child for small businesses
The business continued to grow, until Scrap Your Trip became the largest priority-mail shipper in southern Florida. This caught the attention of the U.S. Postal Service. They invited her to speak on behalf of small business owners at the 2006 National Postal Forum. She took the stage with shipping powerhouses eBay, Amazon, and JCPenney.
And she impressed. By the time the conference was over, the U.S. Postal Service had offered to create a shipping box customized to her specifications, something they've only done once before. "The first was a little company called eBay," she said coyly. "Maybe you've heard of it?"
Julie Swatek with her custom box
Swatek was excited at the opportunity. "Previously, there was no packaging larger than letter size where you know something's not going to get damaged," she said. Swatek's box is 15" x 15", flat, and sturdy. "You almost can't bend it in half," she said.
When opportunity knocks, open the door
Swatek realized this was a good time to hire a publicist. During the previous year, she'd invested in search advertising, and it had paid off. "In one year, we grew 652% and increased our customer base by 16,000," she said. She diverted the advertising funds to a publicist to help her gain the attention of the media for her public speaking activities.
And as she started to appear in the press, more opportunities came her way. A group of MBA students offered to overhaul her warehouse logistics as a school project. "We went from 10 minutes order processing to a minute and a half," she said.
Doing it her way
Swatek implemented every suggestion from the MBA students, except one. Instead of hiring several people to just pick orders, all of her 17 employees process orders for at least an hour each day. "I think that's the best way," she explained.
"I want an outstanding company. I pride myself on customer service. I choose customer service over profits every time, even when it hurts," said Swatek.
"Having a Yahoo! store allows me to do that," she continued. "I'm not at the mercy of a $200-an-hour programmer every time I want to change something. I can put up new products myself. I'm a do-it-yourselfer."