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Archive for April, 2010

SmallBiz Interview with Margaret Chan of Cherry's Brandname Gallery

Friday, April 30th, 2010

We here at KikScore came across Margaret Chan and Cherry’s Brandname Gallery on Twitter a few months back.  In 2008, Margaret launched an online shopping boutique for luxury goods, high-end skin care products and sleek fashion accessories.  She has a great small business story and some great thoughts for the community on selling online.

1. Tell us about Cherry’s Brandname Gallery and who you focuses on serving?

Cherry’s Brandname Gallery is a specialty store, offering an assortment of designer brands, such as Bottega Veneta, Christian Dior, Bvlgari, Juicy Couture, La Prairie and Tiffany, to our customers around the world. Throughout its stores in various URLs, Cherry’s Brandname Gallery presents its unique edit of the best in Jewelery, Cosmetics, Skin Care, Shoes & Accessories, and Home & Lifestyle from around the world. Founded in 2008, we now have stores strategically placed in various web locations operated by some of the most popular online commerce providers, including Bonanzle, eCrater, Atomic Mall, HighWire, Blujay, CQOut (UK) & Bidorbuy (South Africa).

Cherry’s Brandname Gallery is in the business of anticipating its customer needs and providing them with merchandise they cannot get elsewhere as well as the hottest products that are always sold out elsewhere. While most of the merchandise are brand new, a smaller portion of them is gently used because we found that around 20% of our customers are looking for this type of products due to the fact that the price is, to a greater extent, much lower and more affordable.

2. How did you get your started selling online?

With some successful selling experience at eBay around three years ago, I was encouraged to set up my own online stores, selling only authenticated designer products at the most competitive price I can offer. When I was selling at eBay, I found that a lot of people visited eBay because they wanted to find the best deals – the lowest-priced designer merchandise, for instance, Apple iPod, Gucci handbags and Tiffany jewelry – that they would love to buy. Although some of those products were really low in price, more and more buyers these days complained to eBay that they doubted some particular products they received were not authentic as described by the sellers. With this knowledge in mind, I believed that opening an online store selling authenticated designer products should be a good idea.

3. Where will Cherry’s Brandname Gallery
focus most of its energy in 2010?

In 2010, our main focus is on promoting our Jewelery section, particularly on Juicy Couture jewelry, in the hope that our customers discover a few of the many limited edition and hard-to-find collectibles we have scoured the Earth to find for them. From the limited edition charms and the latest designed necklaces, to the pre-release jewelry items and the retired bracelets, we hope all our customers find the year of 2010 as inspiring as we do. In order to make sure our marketing campaign is successful, we will make good use of various online advertising channels, such as Google Adwords, Yahoo Advertising and Twitter, to help us achieve our goal.

4. If you had 2 lessons learned from your business that you could pass on to others about selling online, what are those?

First of all, it is easy to start your online selling business, but to keep it running with optimal performance at all time is another matter. Similar to running your business with a physical store, good sales and marketing strategies are key to success.

Apart from that, customer’s satisfaction is also of utmost importance to online business. Exceptional customer service results in greater customer retention, which in turn results in higher profitability. We therefore strongly believe that customer loyalty is one of the most crucial and major contributors to sustainable profit growth. Over 60% of our profits are from customers who came back and made their purchases more than once within the 3-month period.

5. What do you see as 2 new trends in your business this year?

As the cost of running business with a physical store or office is comparatively high due to the monthly rental fee as well as the consumption of electricity and the hiring of manpower, more and more businesses like us tend to create their presence on the Internet. Some of them even stopped running their physical stores in order to focus mainly on their online selling business. Without a significant competitive advantage, a retailer will be forced to raise a white flag in this cruel and heartless battlefield.

To face this challenge, an increasing number of retailers have to offer discounts to attract their customers. In other words, buyers can find their best deals online much more easier because they are able to compare prices with other stores selling the same products on the Internet. However, I can see that the price of high-profile designer merchandise will not fluctuate too much as usual.

As we hold true to the ethos – quality, innovation and integrity, we try to make ourselves more competitive in the market by sourcing merchandise that is not commonly offered by our competitors instead. Most of our products are only available in 1-2 pieces per style because the supply of these pre-release and hard-to-find, retired items from our sources is very limited, to beginning with. Besides, we will ensure all the products sold to our customers are of the best quality. Last but not least, all products will be securely wrapped and packed so that they can arrive at our customers’ hands without damage after the long delivery process.

6. If your business/store could be any movie or movie character, what movie/movie character would it be and why?

I think Barbie is one of the best choices because she is a character who is very much aware of how she looks. In other words, she is a very fashion-conscious doll and cartoon character. Her wardrobe is full of all kinds of clothing, handbags and shoes. Her jewelry box contains a full range of luxurious jewelry. People just can’t imagine Barbie could afford wearing something with bad taste.

7. If Cherry’s Brandname Gallery could have a dream spokesperson for your company who would it be and why?

For Cherry’s Brandname Gallery it would have to be Anne Hathaway because I believe she fits for the position very well. Many movie directors love to choose her to play the roles which require her to wear a lot of designer clothing and/or costumes of the most elegant styles. For instance, in her most recent role in the movie “Alice in Wonderland” in which she is the White Queen, we can see how lovely she appears to be in those gorgeous gowns and jewelry.

8. How do the folks at Cherry’s Brandname Gallery let loose after a busy day working?

All of us love fashion so going out for a drink and having a dinner together in order to share the hottest fashion tidbits we have ever known with each other are what we always do after a busy day working.

9. Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?

Small business community should consider making good use of the Internet to promote and run their business because the operating cost online is low when compared to the traditional business model. Besides, traffic flow on the Internet is definitely higher. Your business can reach thousands of millions of people who have Internet connection from around the world. If you know how to utilize those search engine optimization tools to promote your business, it will undoubtedly help you save a lot of money required to be spent on online advertisement.

We would like to thank Margaret for sitting down with KikScore.  If you have questions for Margaret, please leave them in the comments below.

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Archive for April, 2010

Diary of a Startup: Staying in Touch

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

KikScore is made up of 7 team members.  We are on 2 different time zones.  Several of our members travel regularly for their day jobs.  One of us has a consulting business that requires odd-hour projects.  All of this adds up to difficulty in scheduling time to talk. 

And by “talk” I mean talking about the direction of the business as a whole.  Because we have side calls with partners, channels and customers.  We also have subset discussion focused on marketing and technology.  Not that this is unique to KikScore, but I would say that 50% of our time is not spent on plotting strategy.  Instead we focus on delivering product and satisfying partner/customer requests. 

One of the things I worry about is staying “in touch”.  Talking isn’t enough.  As I describe above, the KikScore team talks a lot, but we need more time to think together.  While most of us are in one city, it doesn’t mean we sit down each week and just talk about general direction.  We are so busy with opportunities, we’re focused on getting through the day.  So how do you preserve the connection that first brought you together?  I have no idea.  We’re trying to use Skype and get together for lunches related solely to strategy, but as we work on more projects, those lunches are turning into project status meetings.  It’s a challenge.

I throw this out to the readers…any suggestions in rekindling our long conversations on strategy?

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Archive for April, 2010

The Awe Inspiring Essence of Creativity

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I stumbled upon an interesting and motivating quote a couple weeks ago:
Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself — George Bernard Shaw

This got me thinking about how creativity comes into play in defining not only who we are, but how the world sees us.  My daughter, who turned 2 in December, has started mastering marker to paper, and paint brush to easel.  My husband and I praise her creative wonders and display many of her designs about our home.

As I hung two of her recent ‘dinosaur’ masterpieces on my office wall today (one scanned above), I am overwhelmed with not only a sense of pride but an inspiration to be more creative myself.   To force more creativity in my daily doings and namely in my business activities (both day job and KikScore).  To remind myself that a little bit of color and imagination can be awe inspiring.

In order to maintain a competitive edge in business, you must have innovation that not only keeps your customers interested and coming back, but ensures they are shouting out accolades about your business with their friends and beyond.  Since teamwork is a key element to business success, you need to keep your team motivated and the creative juices flowing.

We continuously encourage creativity and individuality in our children… and we need to carry that forth and foster it in the work place environment as well.

Whether you have a start-up or a mature business, how do you encourage creativity?  Get out those markers and a blank palette… what can you create?

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Archive for April, 2010

It's Official, According to the NYT and the Army, Power Point is Destroying the World

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

A month ago, I wrote a blog about how terrible Power Point was for business.  I was in a full Power Point stupor, trying to figure out how to make complicated concepts fit onto a colorful and sparse slide.  I sounded bitter and that took away from my credibility. 

Now the New York Times has pointed out the dangers of Power Point in context of the war on terror.  I’ve linked to the article here(and a special thanks to my friend Michael C. for sending it to me).  The most disturbing point made is that the over-simplification of strategy to fit on a slide (and the overconfidence conveyed by these simplified slides) can mislead developers of war plans (including our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan).  Think about this for a second…apparently a good deck will be able to sell you on a war strategy (or business strategy), but the better the deck, the more likely it will lead you to an untenable position.  That sounds about right.

Please continue to share your Power Point horror stories with us.

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Archive for April, 2010

Lessons Learned for Small Business from Sandra Bullock's Heartbreak

Monday, April 26th, 2010

So I have to admit, I am more of a fan of Sandra Bullock because of my wife.  She loves Sandra Bullock, especially in that movie Hope Floats. Bullock does seem very down to Earth and does not have the outward characteristics of your typical Hollywood diva.  On the other hand, I thought I liked Jesse James, especially after his appearance in Celebrity Apprentice last year.  Again he seemed like a fairly straight-talking guy that had learned from his past mistakes. Oh but was I wrong.  Actually, a lot of people were wrong.  But there were warning signs all over the place.  And there was plenty of information that was available that could have predicted Sandra Bullock’s and Jesse James’ relationship collapse.

Small businesses can learn from Bullock’s heartbreak.  The Bullock/James fall-out can teach small businesses a lot about picking marketing/integration partners, selecting vendors or freelancers to support your business, using consultants to advise on company strategy and using website designers or software developers for your business. Here are a few lessons:

1. Past Track Record Does Predict Future Performance: So it was apparently known that Jesse James had some issues in his past with staying faithful in relationships.   So Sandra Bullock likely had information that could have predicted James’ infidelity and she probably decided to disregard it. Small businesses cannot afford to ignore information about a partner, vendor, consultant etc. that they have had some past issues in an area such as meeting timelines, deliverables or performing sub-standard work.  Small businesses in fact need to be meticulous in seeking out information about a company’s previous track record because that may be one of the most reliable predictors of whether a vendor/partner will live up to expectations.

2. Do Research & Diligence Upfront: Again the information about James was available for Sandra Bullock. In fact, she probably could have conducted even more diligence on Jesse James’ past.  In this day, with internet resources that are available and sites that provide background information on businesses like Kikscore, there is no excuse for a small business not to conduct exhaustive background research on potential partners, vendors, consultants or even employees that may be hired.  The information is readily-available, small businesses just need to take the time to conduct the research and due diligence on the front end of an engagement.  If a small business takes the time to conduct up front research and diligence, it can really help avoid bad decisions, waste of time and resources, and even potential damage to the brand by avoiding certain businesses all together.

3. Monitor During Relationship/Engagement/Partnership: It now has been reported that Jesse James did most of his “running around” when Bullock was filming her Oscar-award winning movie The Blind Side.  This was all done behind her back when she was busy trying to make a living.  Small businesses can learn from this and arm themselves with tools like Google Alerts to monitor and track what other people are saying about companies that they do businesses with during an engagement.  That way, if there is a blog post about an angry customer saying that a vendor that you are using too is having money issue, you can be on notice and attempt to proactively verify that information.  Those alerts are also great for finding out news reports about companies. Using tools like Google Alerts is a way you can be ahead of the game and avoid finding out this information when it is too late.

4. Quickly Act to Cut Losses: Bullock moved  quickly when she found out about James’ behavior and moved out of her house.  When small businesses find out damaging information or at least information that may worry them about a vendor, partner or contractor that you are currently in business with, you must act quickly.  If you feel that the information puts your business at risk, take steps quickly to avoid further damage and if that means ending a partnership or contract that is what you should consider doing. The alternative is staying in a doomed relationship and we all know where that ends up! Check out Toilet Paper Entrepreneur’s 81 Strategies to Fix a Bad, Falling Apart Business Partnership as a way to gauge whether you should stay in a business relationship.

5. Preserve Your Brand: Along the lines of cutting your losses, Bullock’s brand has actually held up during this heartbreaking episode with James.  She took the high road through the split and did not fall into the trap of being dragged down into the gutter, even when crazy allegations were leveled against her. Instead, she responded in a dignified manner, surrounded herself by her family and did not do anything that was out of her regular behavior.  For a small business that gets burned by a partner or a vendor, instead of getting dragged down by someone else’s behavior, try to act in a way that you want that reflects your brand and not the ugliness that may arise from your partner/vendor’s conduct or statements.

6. Trust Your Gut: In the end, if you ask Bullock I wonder if she had a suspicion early on about James’ behavior toward women, but ignored her gut instinct.  Sadly, if she did I am sure she probably wishes now that she listened to her gut.  For small businesses, it is important to have that BS meter and if you detect even the slightest issue with  potential business partner/vendor you should move on.  There are just too many other options out there for partners, vendors, etc that you will be better off going with someone else rather than someone you have doubts about.  Remember, if you have to convince yourself that you need to do business with someone and you should just ignore some of those “red flag” (even if they are small), stop right there and protect yourself by moving on to the next business.  Sometime the business partner that you say “No” to, is more valuable for your business than the ones you say “Yes!” to.

Please tell us if you see any more lessons learned from the Bullock/James split.

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Archive for April, 2010

How the NFL Draft Can Help You With Online Trust

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

This is one of my favorite times of the year for sports.  The time of hope, promise and turnaround.  That means it is time for the NFL Draft!  My team, the Cleveland Browns, always enters this part of the year and the draft with hopes of getting the amazing college football prospect that will revitalize the team, give us a winning season for once and hopefully (yeah right) a trip to the Super Bowl.  The issue is that you never know if a player your team picks in the draft is going to turn out like you hoped and will deliver on all of the expectations you have built up for them or turn out to be a bust.  Or worse yet, that player ends up breaking the law and not only is he a bust, but he then becomes a shame to the team and the city.  In many ways this is similar to the issue of figuring out who you can trust online for doing business and for online shopping.

In the NFL Draft process, the teams that do the best job are the ones that do the most diligence on the college football prospects.  These are just some of the things that NFL teams and scouts do in the diligence and research process before selecting a player in the draft:

1) Conduct extensive background checks;

2) Put players through multiple interviews and give them tests;

3) Review, analyze and dissect a player’s past performances in college games and;

4) Talk to their coaches, teachers and other experts.

That is all done before draft day and before a player is selected.  And its all done on hundreds of players.  The interesting thing is what NFL teams are looking for in college players is very  similar to what shoppers look for before buying online: 1) a track record of success; 2) good character; 3) reliability and trustworthiness; 4) the ability to deliver and meet expectations and 5) someone you can depend on and that can be your “go to” person.

All of these traits are exactly what people look for for in businesses that operate online as indications of whether you can trust that business.  The commonality between the NFL teams that put players through these tests and online shoppers is: Information!  Information is king.  It is not only having access to that information but it is also having the right information about trustworthiness and reliability to make an informed decision about buying from an online store or selecting a contractor or consultant online that you have come across online.

So next time you are out looking to buy online or select a contractor, be like an NFL scout and look for these types of information. That will help you stay safe when you are shopping online.  Also businesses that have a KikScore seal certainly help shoppers get much of this trust and reliability information.  But just make sure you end up selecting the next Tom Brady and not Ryan Leaf when you decide to do business online!

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Archive for April, 2010

Business Lessons from the NFL Draft

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

First off, let me admit.  This isn’t going to be a highly researched blog post.  Not a shocker, as I love to write about whatever I’m watching on TV.  And what I’m watching is the NFL draft.  Specifically, I”m watching my Minnesota Vikings passing up on selecting Jimmy Clausen in the first round — trading their position in the draft to the Detroit Lions.  This leads to no pick in the first round.  About an hour ago, I was climbing the walls, as the Vikings need a quarterback, and Jimmy Clausen (though he’s from Notre Dame) is a good player. 

An hour has passed and I’m no longer doubting the wisdom of my team, as the first round is over and Jimmy Clausen hasn’t been picked and when the second round starts up tomorrow, the Vikings get to pick the second player of the day.  The Vikings showed patience and they’ll pick up the player they need (hopefully) and also gain picks from Detroit.  So, in watching the first round of the draft, I’ve taken away a few business lessons for KikScore:

1.  Patience generally pays off — ok, I’m being a bit influenced on Michael Lewis’ Moneyball on this — generally reputations are overrated, and role players are interchangeable.  Let others’ impatience work to your advantage and squeeze your competitors as hard as possible when they don’t realize the actual market value of an asset.

2.  Quantity beats Quality — at least in terms of talent selection.  Put another way, would you rather have one A student or three B+ students.  I’ll take the several B students — as there are too many D students out there that you may wind up with.

3.  Position is Key — If you really need a project manager, coming across a great salesperson doesn’t really help you. Draft for you business based on need.

I think that’s the best I can do for business lessons from the draft.  If you haven any suggestions, shoot them on over.

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Archive for April, 2010

Thoughts on 'Startup Advice in Exactly Three Words'

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

I recently stumbled upon this post by Dharmesh Shah on the OnStartups.com blog that got me thinking about the time that we have spent working on KikScore.  In this post Dharmesh comes up with 47 different 3 word phrases that offer advice to others while trying to start-up a new company.  After already having worked on our start-up company for the past 3 years, these pieces of advice triggered a few memories that enforced Dharmesh’s advice for me through these experiences.  Below I picked out a few of the phrases that rang true for me the most and I explain why I feel strongly about these.

Support customers maniacally – This could not be more true for the customers we currently have on our application.  Any customer issue that we receive immediately goes to the top of the priority list in order to address it immediately.  I think that this is a no-brainer for any business but especially for companies just starting out.

Persist through downturns – About 6 months after we started working on KikScore we entered into the recession that we have just now begun to dig out of.  While this definitely wasn’t ideal, I think that it made us focus more on our product and customers and will make us a better company in the long run.  I think that a lot of companies that make it through this recession will be better for it and it will help them learn a lot of lessons that they otherwise may not have.

Improve product daily – We are constantly looking for ways to improve our product and prioritizing these enhancements for release.  I think that it is very important for start-up companies to be regularly adding functionality to their products in order to make current and potential customers happy.

Use your product – Just about everyone on the KikScore team has either used the product themselves on a site they own or worked closely with a friend or family member to use it on their site.  I think that this has allowed us to get a unique perspective on our product and helped us improve it more efficiently for other customers to use.  I think this is important because sometimes the very companies that make great products don’t always use them and over time they become outdated because they don’t have that “real world” experience.

Do any of these items above, or the other 43 pieces of advice that Dharmesh offers, remind you of a decision you made while working on your business? 

(By the way, I must admit that I re-used the picture of the puppies on this post from Dharmesh’s post on the OnStartups.com blog.)

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Archive for April, 2010

Has the Recession Led to an Increase of Online Fraud?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Unemployment is officially around 10% (and there are estimates that the real unemployment is likely 20%).  It is likely that we’ll see this high level of unemployment for the next few years.  Does the recession and unemployment pose a threat to online security?

There have been a few articles linking the recession to an increase of online fraud.  Most of them are anecdotal (citing some instances of shoppers being scammed online), or bad math (saying that claims of online crime have gone up in 2008 and 2009 — forgetting that online shopping grew in those years as well).

The logic makes sense — that desperate times bring out the worst in people.  Cutting in favor of the argument is that it has never been easier to set up a website and start a (fraudulent) business.  The other way to look at it is that with individuals becoming more savvy online, fraudsters will have to be more sophisticated in their criminal activities (making it more unlikely that the newly unemployed just start committing online fraud).

Right now the jury seems to be out, but feel free to share your thoughts (or some conclusive studies on the link between online fraud and the recession).

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Archive for April, 2010

4 Reasons to Start Using KikScore Right Now to Demonstrate Trust & Increase Sales

Monday, April 19th, 2010

So many times we have friends, family and now potential customers and small businesses that ask us why should I use KikScore.  So I am going to give you 4 quick reasons (there are more than 4 but 4 seemed like a good quick number) for why small businesses should start using KikScore. The unique thing about this post is I am actually going to use some of our old blog posts to explain why and to give you the reasons:

1) In at least 7 different ways, Kikscore helps small businesses and online merchants demonstrate trust to shoppers and visitors to your website. KikScore actually helps a small business with each of these 7 Steps to Increased Trust for More Online Sales.

2. You can Solicit and Listen to Customer Feedback. The KikScore seal and KikReport gives your small business a dynamic feedback platform to interact with your customers.  By using KikScore, you can listen, manage and respond to comments and also display customer feedback as testimonials for your business.  Tell your customers to skip Yelp and those other review sites and have those comments posted on your site instead of third party sites!

3. Your small business can use KikScore to introduce itself to the world through a video introduction.  Small Business are increasing Using Videos to Help Your Small Business and if you use the KikScore service you will be able to use our video platform on the KikReport to not only introduce yourself, but also as a product, educational and thought leadership video.

4.  It works!  Small businesses that have signed up for KikScore and placed the seal and KikReport on their sites, have seen an increase in their sales because they are giving their customers more information about their business.  These small businesses are also being more transparent to shoppers.  The success actually goes back to our very first customers that signed up late last year when we launched.  Here is just one of the testimonials that we have received about KikScore heping demonstrate trust for a small business and increasing the small businesses’ sales.

So please try KikScore out!  Or if you have questions about our service, please either call 1-877-KikScore or email us at support@kikscore.com.

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