Eleven years ago, I knew nothing about home construction or remodeling. But I did know about technology. So when a friend’s uncle began importing kitchen cabinets for resale to contractors, I offered to build him a website. He declined, telling me that you can’t sell cabinets online.
My friend and I thought that with the right technology infrastructure and software, we could—so we decided to run with it ourselves and started RTAcabinetstore.com.
The first challenge was figuring out how to help shoppers visualize how the cabinets would look in their homes. They’re not only big and bulky to work with, but the shading of the wood and color tones can look dramatically different on a website than in a home. So we set up a program for sending out samples.
Three markets, three portals
The next step was identifying our target markets and building funnels on our website that would deliver different user experiences based on the shopper. For professional builders and contractors that knew exactly what they needed and just wanted to order and move on, we had a quick checkout process where everything could be ordered on one screen.
We launched our business about the same time that do-it-yourself TV shows and networks were really starting to take off, so for those DIY folks, we created our first, very basic, kitchen design tool. They could plug in their measurements and play around with placing some of our products in their room. For the people who had no idea what they were doing, we gave them the option of talking to one of our kitchen designers.
Our first traffic source was Craigslist. We experimented with placing ads in different
cities and trying out different headlines promoting discount kitchen cabinets, then
started layering in paid advertisements on Google and Facebook. After a couple of years of doing paid advertising, we stepped back to take a hard look at our customer
data. We needed to determine who was buying which products and why they were buying them to understand what was driving our sales.
Through that process, we identified five different buyers: homeowners, contractors and builders, real estate agents, investors and flippers. Each had very different reasons for buying, so we started fine-tuning the funnels on our website and changing our advertising strategy to more directly target each customer base.
That’s when growth really started snowballing, so we had to up our technology game to manage that growth without taking on additional staff.
Scaling for growth
We started by making our website more robust and upgrading our kitchen design tools. Then we automated key processes. For example, there was no shopping cart tool out there that could handle our needs. Our average orders are for between 40 to 50 cabinets coming from different makers, so we designed our own shopping cart and attached it to our customer relationship management (CRM) software. That allowed us to take on exponentially more work, without adding staff.
Redesigning the shopping cart was our most complicated undertaking because of all the different things in a kitchen. We had to integrate a wide variety of products, such as drawer pulls and trash cans, because we needed to know exactly which cabinet a specific trash can would fit in. For a company with 10 or 12 products, that may not be very complicated, but we have more than 15,000 different SKUs (stock-keeping units), and we had to make sure they all worked together.
On the logistics side, shipping became a huge time-suck. These are all bulky products that have to be shipped freight. So we integrated with a logistics company that created customized software that could pull everything we needed, including estimating the size and weight of each box, directly from the original customer order. Paperwork that could take 20 minutes to half an hour for each order now takes 35 to 40 seconds.
Adapting to a changing marketplace
Today, we continue to upgrade our technology to reflect how our customers want to interact with us. From the communications standpoint, we’ve added a chatbot to preemptively answer frequently asked questions that could take a person up to half an hour to answer over the phone.
We’re also constantly upgrading our design tools to make them even more intuitive and easy to use. For example, we’re enhancing the visuals and adding 3D graphics to help customers get an even better idea of what our products will look like in their homes.
In the 11 years since we were told you couldn’t sell cabinets online, we’ve grown to more than $40 million in annual revenue, but we still have only 18 employees in-house, with another 10 employees who are outsourced. By leveraging the right technology at the right time, we’ve been able to scale our business to manage growth without requiring more staff.Print this article