Small Business Interview with Ruben Guerin from Cookbook VillageMarch 16th, 2012 | Featured,Interviews,KikScore & KikReport,Online & Small Business Resources,Small Business,Small Business Tips | 1 Comment »
I had the opportunity to interview Ruben Guerin from Cookbook Village and he had some very interesting insights into the current state of e-commerce and small businesses. Ruben also had some great recommendations for small businesses just getting started selling online in the interview below.
Tell us about your business and who you focus on serving?
Cookbook Village has been around several years, but as a popular eBay store. The new store, which opened in January 2012, caters to collectors and cookbook enthusiasts and offers collectible, vintage and used cookbooks.
How did you get started selling online?
My wife had been a collector for years and asked me at one point to sell her collection on eBay. She was fascinated by e-commerce and wanted to us to try it out. There is an audience for collectible cookbooks and we knew it as soon as her original collection was nearly depleted. To keep the store going and our own collecting habit fed, we began scouting cookbooks all over the region. Finally last year, we decided to plan to open our own e-commerce store in 2012. It was six months in the making as we wanted it to be our dream site. We opened in early December and are now entering month four.
What inspires you to grow your business?
I was a 20-year employee of Shell Petroleum when I lived in The Netherlands. I gave up a stable career there to move to the United States with my wife–she had wanted to return home after living there for over 10 years. My world changed quite a bit and I have had to try to re-establish myself. Cookbook Village is my chance at again having a thriving career, this time running my own business. People have said a printed book is becoming a thing of the past. I believe that cookbooks are something you need to touch and feel and I am out to prove they will be around for a long time into the future. Growth is key in any business.
If you had two lessons learned from your business that you could pass on to others about selling online, what are those?
1) Selling online is a business like any other. You have to put a lot of time and effort into making it successful. It is not as easy as putting up a cart page and hitting publish. There are many facets to selling online and I think many new store owners expect it to be easy with a “build it and they shall come” mentality. That is a mistake.
2) Ensure that you plan ways to engage your audience. Cookbook Village has a strong focus on audience engagement and customer service. We are constantly thinking of new ways to reach out and provide our site’s users and customers with content and products that meet their needs. Social media and search engines are both kings in the world of e-commerce. Neither should be taken lightly and both should be a focus when you are building your online store or business. I see many online businesses today that practice one-way communication. This is why the KikScore seal is so important to us. It is a means for customers to provide feedback in a trusted, third-party app.
Where has your business focused most of its energy this year?
Since we have only recently launched the new cookbookvillage.com store we have been focused heavily on tuning our store to offer a better customer experience. Also, we are heavily focused on building store traffic and brand awareness. Through social channels, blogging and SEO, we are starting to gain momentum. We didn’t expect a single sale for the first several months. We were being conservative. We are prohibited from reaching out to our eBay base, so essentially we’ve had to start over. We made a sale in the couple days after hitting “public” in our cart application. What a surprise, but it’s set the bar a bit higher as well.
What do you see as two new trends in small business and in your business?
Pinterest and similar visual sharing platforms are hot right now, especially for e-commerce. The fastest online sale we’ve ever seen came just seconds after hitting “Pin” on one of our books. We are seeing similar platforms come out so we are tracking them closely to see if there are opportunities.
Integrations in technology have really helped streamline small businesses like ours. Our shopping cart platform, Shopify, integrates with a lot of wonderful apps. KikScore, email apps, order status apps and more make the store easier to manage. The fact that companies are working together to provide more integration and features for end-users is a blessing. We wouldn’t have been able to do half of what we’ve accomplished without a platform like Shopify and all of it’s partner applications.
If your business/store could be any movie or movie character, what movie/movie character would it be and why?
Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. Cookbooks make people happy. We like making the connection between cookbook and cook, often bringing customers a cookbook that has a deep connection with a childhood or memorable event. Over the years, we have received many letters from people we’ve touched. Some of those letters describe the memories the customer has had come to life from a book from their past and being able to find it again. I can’t think of many retail items that have the power to bring someone to tears. We are a business like any other and need to profit to carry on and survive, but we like the fact that we make people happy. It’s a win-win situation for both Cookbook Village and our customers.
If your business could have a dream spokesperson for your company who would it be and why?
Russ Parsons, food editor at LA Times did an article on our store. He had stumbled upon our site a week after launch. He has a huge following and a lot of influence in our market. We followed him on the Daily Dish blog but weren’t truly aware of his love of cookbook collecting until we saw the article about Cookbook Village. What a spokesperson he would be! He understands the culinary world and the audience–and is himself a collector. Having someone like that discuss our business is powerful because he understands both the industry and the market. The day that article came out was a day we will forever remember. We were so surprised to see it. It was the perfect article and we wouldn’t have changed a word. If we could pick a second it might have to be one of the Top Chef hosts. We love that show and all its hosts.
What is the biggest challenge that your business faces as a small business and how do you work to overcome that challenge?
The biggest challenge we face tends to be too many ideas, too little time to execute them. Since we are still small and starting out, we need to do it on our own. Our store model patterns the brick-and-mortar boutique store experience–customer service focused with a richer focus on cookbook details versus the one line descriptions you often see on online book sites. That means complete cookbook details and vivid photos of the items (no stock photos of our books). That takes a lot of time. Also all the marketing and customer outreach can be draining. So when do we work on all these updates, promotions and new ideas? We overcome the obstacle by logging each idea and making a fixed time each week to execute at least one of them.
Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?
A strong focus on providing good customer service is as important to online businesses as traditional businesses. With the current social climate online, customers have the power to help promote your business alongside you. Don’t take for granted. Some people may love a quick get-in, get-out experience but others prefer a connection and a sense of community. Online retailers should strive to bring customers the best of both worlds.