A business can’t survive for 5 and 1/2 years on main street in Gillespie without a business savvy, resourceful owner that’s passionate about the community, especially if your business is a toy shop. Bill Toprani, owner of the newly renamed Village Toy Chest, is just that kind of entrepreneur.
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Bill about the impact ShopBenGil will have on the local economy, the history of his store as well as its future, and about ideas on how to improve the BenGil economy. It was enlightening to say the least.
The New Hybrid Business Model: Brick and Mortar + E-commerce
Bill was actually using the hybrid business model I spoke about previously (link) long before I even dreamt of it. He has been selling on-line, primarily Ebay, for close to 10 years now. He’s not only proof that it works, especially in today’s economy, but he’s proof that one day it may just be the life saver your brick and mortar business needs.
Originally, Bill didn’t choose the internet. The internet chose him. It was a business decision of necessity. Like most brick and mortar merchants, Bill had a growing inventory that he just couldn’t move in the local market. Shelf after shelf had items on it that should have been cash in his pocket, yet there it was month and month taking up more and more space. Needing to sell his inventory to buy new inventory and pay his bills, he began brainstorming about possible solutions to his cash flow problem. Eventually, after weighing the pros and cons of each solution, he settled on using the internet to liquidate his unsold inventory. 10 years later, he’s still using the internet to sell products he has trouble selling at the Village Toy Chest. And guess what? It’s still working.
Would his brick and mortar store have survived 5 and ½ years without an on-line outlet? Although he can’t be 100% sure, he said it would have been much, much tougher. He openly confesses that some days, his only sales come from his on-line accounts. Unfortunately, like most small businesses in town, those days are increasing with each passing year.
When I asked him about the transition from strictly a brick and mortar store to a hybrid model (brick and mortar plus on-line e-commerce), he said, “The physical store is a far greater challenge than on-line selling. May I suggest a degree in marketing, finance, psychology, business/stress management, etc. You must constantly reinvent the wheel and never become complacent. As far as on-line selling is concerned, it’s really very easy. Once the initial “set up” to your on-line store is made, you just ‘set it and forget it’. You only work when an order needs packed and shipped.”
And the benefits of selling on-line? According to Bill there are almost too many to list. “
- COST/INVESTMENT- a very small fraction compared to the overhead of a physical location (as little as $15 a month or my monthly water bill!)
- CUSTOMER BASE – Potentially “millions” across the country. Your store/products are listed with various search engines vs. having a selling radius of maybe 10 – 15 miles! Ebay alone has 135 million customers with more than 2 million visitors DAILY
- HOURS OF OPERATION – you’re “always” open. The internet never closes at 5pm!
- PROFITABILITY – less overhead means higher profit margins. (think back to the break even analysis for a store front with overhead of $1500/month and a profit margin of 50%; BE= $3000/month in sales – hope your salary is part of the overhead!)
- EASE OF OPERATIONS – once set up is complete very little admin work is required except to maybe add products or change/add promotions to the site.
- FREEDOM/FLEXIBILITY – Need a sick day? Kids have a doctor’s appointment? Gone fishing? Check the business anywhere anytime! Don’t worry, your on-line store will run briefly without you!
- QUALITY OF LIFE – Never miss out on the little things again. Have date night or family time all day, everyday including weekends!
- LEARNING CURVE – Not computer literate? No worries. Many companies offer “all in one packages” that includes web hosting, templates, and shopping carts with great customer service and support to get you started and continue to help once you’re up and running.
- PERCEPTION – Big company, small company? No one will know you’re a one woman show selling your homemade jams & jellys from you house unless you tell them.
Honestly, the list could go on and on.”
And that my friend is the future of small business in rural communities.
Next week’s article will finish the conversation Bill and I had regarding the future of the BenGil main streets, possible ideas to improve the main streets, as well as the new ShopBenGil business grants.