Not Your Garden-Variety Small Business

customerspotlightWith two decades of experience in the antiques trade, Susan Ingram was somewhat surprised when her sales figures finally began to decline. It quickly became apparent that she would need to adapt a new strategy; otherwise the business would become a relic in its own right.

Signing on as a jack of all trades in 2007, Susan’s son Garrett Ingram helped to facilitate the shift away from antiques and toward the lucrative garden décor market. Garrett saw an opportunity to turn the family business, A Rustic Garden, into a burgeoning online enterprise.

“We still maintain a small storefront in rural Illinois,” said Garrett, “but probably 95 to 99 percent of our goods are sold online now – to buyers all over the country.”

The Ingrams soon found themselves at an impasse – their trellises, planters and fences were clearly in demand, but they needed to find an effective way to market them. Besides relying on positive word-of-mouth recommendations, Garrett placed a series of advertisements on Google AdWords. This approach helped to a degree, but it created another problem: He was now paying exorbitant pay-per-click fees just to draw attention to the Web site.

Garrett recognized that there had to be a more cost-effective way to drum up business. That’s when he turned to iePlexus for some guidance.

“Our whole goal was bringing more people to the site through organic clicks,” said Garrett. “IePlexus helped improve our rankings on Google and the other search engines, and exposure was exactly what we needed. We didn’t have any illusions of topping the first page of search engines and competing with big-box stores like Target, but we did find a way to carve out a successful niche.”

“We were also intrigued with the idea of blogging as a marketing tool,” Garrett continued, “we’ve been involved in this business for some time, so we had plenty of valuable information to share.”

Since coming on board with iePlexus, A Rustic Garden has decreased its pay-per-click budget from about $130 a day to less than half that cost. And business continues to boom. The company’s exposure has increased exponentially, thanks in large part to Susan’s diligent blogging habits. She chronicles creative garden design ideas and tips on a blog customized by iePlexus.

Although homeowners make up the Ingrams’ bread-and-butter demographic, they receive considerable business from retailers as well. Last October, Garrett filled the largest order in A Rustic Garden’s history: More than 400 ladders were shipped off to Pottery Barns across the country in time for Christmas.

“Pottery Barn wanted a sturdy, rustic ladder to help them decorate all their storefront displays,” Garrett said. “Every store got two ladders. It just shows that our products are just as popular for their functional aspect as for the way they look. We’re getting ready to fill another order for Bloomingdale’s soon, although it’s on a smaller scale.”

A Rustic Garden’s renovated ladders are the stuff of legend in and around Mount Sterling, Ill., which isn’t surprising when you consider the care and effort that goes into their restoration. Garrett and Susan maintain a number of valuable connections with local auction houses. The auctioneers make a point of saving old ladders and shipping them Garrett’s way for a full-fledged makeover.

“We take some time to refurbish them. That might mean sanding, painting, replacing a few rungs. But some people prefer an unpainted look,” Garrett said.

While some of A Rustic Garden’s products are imported from Mexico and China in the interest of keeping prices low, other items are as American as the shop’s proprietors.

A welding shop stands just a few blocks down the street from the Ingrams’ storefront, and that’s where A Rustic Garden’s most popular item – wrought-iron fencing – is crafted.

“Do-it-yourself fencing is in high demand right now; people don’t always want to deal with a contractor,” Garrett said. As such, he is taking steps to give DIY fencing a prominent billing on A Rustic Garden’s Web site. IePlexus’ Web development arm has played a crucial role in this process.

In the near future, Garrett expects to have the site outfitted with a special “fencing quotes” template that will allow customers to get DIY fencing price estimates instantly. The Ingrams have learned to pay close attention to the comments and desires of their customers, and they’ve been proactive about changing their site accordingly.

“Basically we want to make the whole thing more professional and user-friendly,” Garrett said. “IePlexus will be helping us to get that done.”

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