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Ron Schmelzer is the founder, visionary, and instigator behind Bizelo. Besides being passionate about solving small business problems, Ron is a parallel entrepreneur, having started and sold a number of successful Internet and technology businesses.
MO: Where does your passion for small businesses come from?
Ron: I’ve always been entrepreneurial, ever since I was a little kid and I shoveled neighbors’ driveways and even ran a carnival from our driveway. I’ve founded a number of startup companies, some more successful than others, but I’ve always loved the idea of creating something from nothing. I guess it’s the idea that you can have an idea, work on it, iterate it a few times, and build something big that really appeals to me. And nothing evokes the spirit of self-fulfillment like being a small business operator. That and the fact that I make a terrible employee really endears me to small businesses. I love everything about small businesses – from the personal connection between the person who owns and runs the business and the customers, to the intense focus on operations and getting things right. I find that the larger a company gets the more that the management and the customers diverge in their interests and the less things get interesting.
MO: Why should businesses be excited about having a centralized inventory?
Ron: The ability to sell products online has created new sales channels and opportunities for merchants. Launch a website and you can suddenly sell to a global marketplace with millions of potential customers. As the cost to enter the ecommerce market dropped, many entrepreneurs have even bypassed brick-and-mortar stores altogether, preferring to launch a virtual store online.
Beyond a basic website, ecommerce stores have learned to leverage technology. Now, you have the ability to connect multiple sales channels such as eBay, Amazon, Shopify, 3dCart and Vend stores together seamlessly. As ecommerce continues to grow in popularity, so does its competitive nature. Expectations from potential and existing customers have increased as ecommerce solutions have improved, and online. The good news is that technology has created new opportunities for retailers to earn more money and improve efficiency while making it easier for both the buyer and seller.
MO: What three tips would you give to someone thinking about becoming an online merchant?
Ron:I assume you mean “successful” online merchant. I guess it all boils down to three main things:
1) Sell things that you know there’s demand for. You shouldn’t just sell random items without knowing that a market exists to buy those items. Do some research. Figure out what people want. Find out what price they are willing to pay for those items. Spend lots of time talking to your customers — this will help you figure out what your customers want and how best to deliver it to them.
2) Differentiate yourself from the competition — figure out what your key unique selling proposition is. It’s too easy to sell exactly what others are selling and then get lost in the weeds. Think about it – why would someone buy something from you when they can buy it from other places, most likely places they’ve already bought other things. Figure out what distinguishes you – your offering, your service, your price, perhaps a better understanding of your customers’ needs? Once you know that, you can figure out how to better market your product and compete effectively.
3) Spend most of your time keeping your customers happy and finding the most efficient means to reach more of your customers. It’s easy to spend your time getting lost in the weeds of playing with site configurations, operations, and the minutiae of running an online business. But all that matters is whether or not you are satisfying your customers and finding ways to get your product in front of those customers. Basically, yes, you need to have a product customers want at a price they can afford (see point #1), but you also need to provide service that keeps your customers coming back to you and also finding better ways to reach increasingly larger portions of your market.
MO: What are some of the reasons behind “shopping cart abandonment” and what solutions can you offer to encourage more conversion rates?
Ron: If you have an e-commerce business you’ve most likely heard of the term shopping cart abandonment. Many online shoppers place products into their shopping basket but never complete the checkout process.
Imagine walking into your favorite clothing store, picking up a basket, strolling around while placing your favorite items into your basket. And right as your about to walk up to the exit, you decide to place your basket on the ground without buying a single thing. Why would anyone do this, and how do you prevent it?
Although it’s much easier to abandon your shopping your online then at a physical store, shopping online allows you to use analytics packages like Google Analytics, A/B testing solutions, competitive analysis, to track customer behavior. Once we undertand what our customers are doing, we can figure out why this happens and then we make an improvement plan.
MO: You also run what is now Maryland’s largest monthly tech event–the TechBreakfast. Can you talk about the how you initially started with just 10 people and now you have over 1200? What marketing strategies did you use to get the word out and why do you think that it’s been such a resounding success?
Ron: YES! I also run what is now Maryland’s largest monthly tech event–the TechBreakfast. We started with just 10 people and we’re now over 1200 people meeting every month in three different locations (Baltimore, Columbia, and DC) with hundreds of people attending each event. It’s been the most amazing ride, seeing TechBreakfast grow so fast. It’s been written about in the Baltimore Sun, BMore Media, Baltimore Business Journal, Technically Baltimore, and many other publications, and it really has helped increase my visibility, increase the visibility of Bizelo, and help me find the awesome people I’m working with now! I heartily recommend to entrepreneurs to start or join a meetup and get involved!
MO: What are some trends in your industry that you think that our readers should be paying attention to or taking advantage of?
Ron : There are a lot of trends, but the most important ones are mobile and social. More and more of people’s interactions with the online world is happening in the context of mobile, whether it be iPhones, iPads, Android devices, or other non-traditional technologies. This means that your ecommerce experience needs to work well in a mobile environment. But it also means you should think about the opportunities inherent in mobile. Perhaps you can integrate better with the mobile experience than your competition or provide something that works better when people are mobile. Mobile is big and getting bigger.
Same with social. People are sharing their finds and experiences online in social networks more than ever before. This is a knife that cuts both ways, however. Provide an awesome experience and people will share it with everyone they know. Provide tools to help them do so, and even better, your experience will scale tremendously. However, if you provide your customers with a bad experience then they will also tell all their friends. Social is a megaphone and can amplify customers experiences, whether they be bad or good. So you should treat your customers and their social experiences as if it was a broadcast network. Do things that you know (and hope) will be broadcasted, and all will be well.
Viva le mobile, social!