My introduction to rugs was unexpected; I was working as a UX designer in New York when I fell in love with a Turkish-American architect. It was 2008. There were infinitely more opportunities for a young architect in Turkey than in the States, so we decided to move. Though I admit, I didn’t really expect we would be there for six years. In that time, we started a design and architecture firm in Istanbul. I taught advanced design courses at Istanbul Technical University. And Mehmet, who had founded a wholesale rug business in New Jersey before going to Columbia to pursue architecture, started educating me in rugs. It was around this time that I also started getting all sorts of requests from family, friends, friends of family, friends of friends, to help them to find a rug — even though I was NOT in the rug business then. I was in Turkey, and for most people, that proximity was enough. Professionally, I've always been interested in finding elegant, simple ways around problems; selling quality handmade rugs to people turned out to be a problem, and I seemed to be in an interesting position to try to solve it. There was an gap in the market: a trustworthy, straight-talking rug company that is selling good quality handmade rugs at prices real people can afford. That is the space Floorplan is trying to fill. One of the ways we are able to sell such quality handmade rugs at reasonable prices is because we avoid the middleman. We travel deep into India, Pakistan, Turkey and elsewhere to source our products.
Word of mouth! Friends had friends looking for a rug, and they knew we would provide good advice, even if they didn't buy from us. Luckily, we had things that met their needs and budget, and they've been huge advocates for us ever since. Pinterest, Instagram and commenting on popular home accessories blogs drive the most qualified traffic to our site; other social media channels and Houzz provide good exposure but don't convert as well.
Sale Rack, MailChimp, Zendesk. MailChimp is the most critical in helping us to maintain communications with customers. One of the biggest lessons we've learned is that building your community — a REAL group of people interested in what you're doing — and communicating with them in meaningful ways is far more valuable than typical ad spend. We re-prioritized so that many of our efforts now are about building solid email lists. Rugs are a tough item to ship and since more than 90% of our products are unique, we pack and send them ourselves, usually through UPS.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Focus on your core business, get your store up quickly and continually improve it. Look at analytics and see what people are interested in and adjust accordingly. Spend time on the tags and SEO description for your products. It's worth the time. Try different channels outside of your store to see what brings the most qualified traffic — qualified being the operative word. It's not a good use of marketing dollars or time/energy if you're not bringing people who are ready to buy.