Name: Titus Blair
Ever heard of JustLeftHandedScissors.com or BlogAboutGrandma.com? Didn't think so. How about SwordsOnline.com? Gotcha - the last company is an unlikely-sounding dot com that has actually seen the light of day. Not only that, but Titus Blair has made it into a winning company.
The Pepperdine University grad was always fascinated by the sinewy steel blades. And when swordplay became all the rage in movies such as Gladiator, Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai, Titus jumped at the chance to combine his personal interests in swords and in the Internet into a feasible business.
"Swords have a timeless quality," he says. "There's a base of collectors, but I've also tapped into a customer base that wants to buy these things so they can show them off to their friends." Another helpful element has been the fact that eBay has stirred up broad interest in collecting all sorts of things.
Titus has been happy to accommodate. He has driven traffic to his online store in part by buying prime advertising placements on search-engine sites such as Google. Titus also has optimized the content and construction of his site so that searches conducted on the Internet pull up SwordsOnline.com first.
Sure enough: SwordsOnline.com has grown at an astonishing rate, and Titus has become the world's leading e-tailer of swords, with millions in annual revenue.
Titus's Key Move: Promotions to Drive Traffic
Initially, Titus was building traffic to the site - but only slowly and steadily. He was averaging fewer than 1,000 visitors a month. And he realized that to make his business viable for the long term, he needed to generate overwhelming growth that would slice up any competing wanna-bes and establish his company as the unchallenged Zorro of the business.
So, Titus began to experiment with some traffic-building strategies, especially contests where SwordsOnline.com gave away a delicious weapon to the winner. "We have swords, and we want to use swords to promote swords," as he puts it. "The way we can do that is give away product to excite people about it."
These visitors, Titus explains, "aren't committed to buy, but they'll keep interacting. The commitment you're making to them is to give them a chance to win a product they want. They're committing to you to revisit the site and give you information about them."
In fact, each visitor to SwordsOnline.com is asked to register a "wish list" of swords from the site's inventory that they'd like to win, with a value of $10 to $500 each. (The company removes swords from each wish list if they become unavailable.) Then, once a month, SwordsOnline randomly selects a contestant and an item from that person's wish list and announces the winner.
The contests proved a swashbuckling success for Titus. Once he started using them and other purposeful methods for building traffic, the number of visitors virtually doubled every three months. Each day that SwordsOnline.com sends out its monthly e-mail to those who've signed up for the contest, daily sales bump up from 2% to 7%.
"We don't know if these people would have made a purchase with or without the contest," Titus says. "What we do know is that we're getting more hooks in the water, and more bait on the hook, and more fish giving us information. And we can throw stuff at that customer faster."
Titus is convinced that his business would have grown much more slowly if he hadn't made this Key Move. "The 'power of free' is one thing I'm fully behind," he says. "When you can give stuff away for free, like our product, and do it on the proper level, you can quadruple sales."
Titus's Bonus Insight:
How, you may wonder, do you send something as weird and potentially lethal as a sword through the U.S. mail or any other way? Titus swears it's no big deal! "They're really well-packaged, and we've been doing it for years, so we have the kinks worked out," he says. "It's very, very safe." And he only has to declare the contents of these very long packages if they're being sent abroad.