The landscape was different in the fall of 2007. The boating industry was living large and everyone seemed to be doing well. The housing industry was going crazy and people were buying boats faster than they could be built. Champagne was falling from the sky and everyone got lucky on a friday night. Okay maybe it wasn’t THAT great but times were pretty good.
Then it happened. It stopped. The country stopped. The housing industry collapsed. Financial institutions went belly up left and right. So did boat dealers and boat builders. It was in that time I began a company called Northstar Products Inc. My mission was to provide a high quality bimini top for a pontoon boat at a fair price. Simple game plan. We went from an idea in 2007 to reality a few months later in January of 2008. 6 years later a lot has changed. Some things though….the important things…have stayed the same.
I received a lot of advice from a lot of people on what to do and how to run a successful online company that is selling a high dollar item sight unseen. Here are the top 5 pieces of advice I took – and I’m glad I did.
5. Fifth place. You can’t please everyone all of the time. No matter how hard you try there are just some people out there that aren’t happy unless they are miserable. They will try to make you miserable too. Do everything within reason to accomodate your customers. Key words – within reason. If you have a customer asking you to do something unreasonable chances are there is nothing you will be able to do to satisfy them. Don’t be unprofessional about it, just explain your reasons clearly and if it isn’t good enough then congrats, you just ran into that customer you can’t please. Let it go.
4. Fourth place – just out of medal contention – Don’t compete on price. You will lose. There is always someone out there that can buy raw materials in larger quantities and cheaper. They can produce cheaper and sell cheaper. Identify the market you are after. Try to go after different market segments within reason. We developed a three tier system – entry level, mid level, high level bimini tops. Our entry level top is no the cheapest out there. It’s not the most expensive either. It doesn’t make sense to sell a product you aren’t making money on. That is a great recipe to go out of business. Know your expenses and price accordingly. Make less on entry level items and more on high level items by adding value as well as price to upgrade your products.
3. Third place – the bronze medal – Use quality parts/raw materials. Don’t skimp on this part. I know companies that will buy second quality fabric and pass it off as first quality stuff. It cheapens your product and your name. Take the high road – it will pay off. Cheap parts will only cause your phone to ring off the hook with angry customers. My goal is to spend my time on the phone taking orders, not explaining why the zippers just fell off the bimini top.
2. Second place – the runner up is….Every “problem” is a chance to excel. Sometimes I feel the best feedback we get is from how we handle a problem or issue a customer has with one of our products. We don’t walk on water so mistakes happen. Customers will have problems from time to time. Perhaps the frame is scratched up, or there is missing hardware. The top is the wrong color or the wrong size, or the wrong fabric. What are you going to do to fix it? Do whatever it takes. Go beyond what the customer expects or asks for. The extra effort and money you put into it will directly lead to more sales. Your customer will be so impressed with how you handled the problem or error they will go out and tell all their friends or anyone they run into how you fixed the problem.
1. First place. The Gold medal – Service, Service, Service. This is lacking big time all over. Not just online but really everywhere you go. From the bad service at seemingly every restaurant you go to all the way to the car dealership that you just have this bad feeling about. Bad service is everywhere. Not at Northstar Products though. We believe in working just as hard to make sure our product goes on your boat the way you intended as we did to secure the sale. We work hard to answer emails quickly and honestly. If we can’t make something for you we will let you know so we don’t waste your time. We will even give you an idea of where to go if we can’t help. I can’t stress enough that our service is most responsible for our growth.
There are a lot of places to buy bimini tops for boats out there. Our service is second to none. Come see for yourself.