Often, I write about ecommerce platforms and other resources that are oriented toward micro-sized, mom-and-pop online businesses. Sometimes, I write about platforms that tailor to big companies whose names are well known to everyone. But what about all those organizations that aren't really small and aren't really large? They face their own unique sets of challenges when it comes to keeping up with the competition, adding new features to their online stores, and growing. Businesses of all sizes can learn from the challenges they face.
Zoovy, an ecommerce platform that has been online since 1999, caters to mid-size businesses - companies with between $1 million and $20 million in revenue. According to Zoovy founder and CEO Brian Horakh, "They sometimes have the needs of a $20 million company and they only have $1 million in revenue."
Horakh has spent many years learning what businesspeople need and how to provide it within an ecommerce platform. He started the company when he was writing ecommerce software for a friend and offered some items for sale as a way to demonstrate the package. When he started getting orders for those demo items, he knew he was on to something. "What's a better way to start using your software than to actually sell some stuff?" he asks. Horakh, 34, has an entrepreneurial background; Zoovy is his fifth company.
Zoovy gives its customers two options for setting up one or more ecommerce storefronts. They can order services a la carte, or pay an $8000 setup fee and have the company design a new website and set up everything for them. "We get it up and running, we watch the traffic for 30 days, we address whatever areas we need to address, and then we hand you the keys." The company has 30 employees who are considered specialists in fields such as Amazon, eBay, and online marketing.
Zoovy, which has minimal venture funding, has withstood the volatile ecommerce software market. After a downturn in 2007, "it was clear we were missing something, it wasn't just about having the best technology," according to Horakh, who said the company decided to reorient itself as a service rather than a software company. In 2009, the company was profitable and ready to go to market with another marketing strategy when another bubble burst.
Zoovy has survived by developing a relatively small but highly successful customer base. Its 1,000 clients run 4,800 different businesses. Zoovy's platform is well suited to companies that run multiple storefronts.
One of those customers, Bradley Rosen, launched the first of eight websites with Zoovy in April of 1997. One, CubWorld, sells memorabilia for fans of the Chicago Cubs; others include BlackhawksShop.com and NYDugout.com. All of Zoovy's customer service personnel are particularly important to him.
"One of the best services they provide to me is the customer service," he comments. "I've dealt with many large companies before, and Zoovy has provided me one of the best experiences to date. They are always willing to spend as much time as needed to talk strategy, explain the most recent ecommerce trends and always deploy of the most up-to-date ecommerce strategies and technology needed to succeed on the web."
Rosen also likes Zoovy's user-friendly interface, which takes his employees "practically no time at all to learn," as well as the ability to push products to Google, Bing, Nextag, TheFind, and other shopping sites. "Exposure is everything, and making sure that my most recent products are displayed as quickly as possible is important to me."
Many mid-size business managers aren't as clear on what they really need. It isn't always what they think they need, Horakh says. They might think they need things that everyone is talking about these days, and that Zoovy also provides: mobile commerce and social commerce.
"Those things are important, but if you aren't doing basic merchandising functions, managing your inventory and handling your warehousing needs, it doesn't do any good. It doesn't matter how many times you've tweeted in a particular day if you need to fix your warehouse."
Zoovy works with each of its clients differently. The company avoids working with startups, which are "too volatile," in Horakh's words. The perfect client, Horakh says, "will let us make a very acute diagnosis of what it is they should be doing. We'll come up with a growth plan for the next year or two years, in contrast to other ecommerce platforms, which offer technology only."
The ability to do long-range business planning and the experience needed to tell mid-size companies what they need to be focusing on is one thing that separates Zoovy from the competition, Horakh said. "There's nothing that we do that somebody else doesn't do, but we do it better, because all our services were designed from the ground up to work together."
As an example, he cites shipping. Virtually every ecommerce platform or "shopping cart" software allows online merchants to track shipping. But Zoovy has the ability to identify which employee shipped which package, and warn before a double-shipment occurs. If one employee makes more mistakes than another, the company can then take action. "It's not uncommon for us to find that 90% or more of the shipping mistakes come from one employee, and so having that information means corrective actions can be more focused. "
Many ecommerce packages include the ability to list sales items to Amazon.com. But Zoovy also supports the bundling of products into kits for sale on Amazon and eBay. Horakh says that "consumers would always rather purchase a kit since they know all the products in a kit are compatible, in addition, they tend to be higher margin because they aren't being sold by everybody."
Rather than simply allowing sales data to be exported to a file that can then be imported into the popular accounting package QuickBooks, Zoovy supports interactively opening your data immediately in QuickBooks, and synchronizing data accurately, compared to a flat file import/export that most companies use. This allows decision makers within a company to view and act on sensitive financial data that they don't want lower-level employees to see.
After a decade in the ecommerce field, Brian Horakh sounds energized. What drives him? "It's not just me, but it's the whole company that's motivated by helping companies grow," he says. "By giving them an easy way to manage their business, we save them time. We give them back a relationship with their kids. We change their lives."