eCommerce Business: Rain Chains
What is a rain chain and why do people buy them?
Rain chains replace downspouts to bring water downward from the gutters of a home. People buy them because they look great and sound pleasing. They are functional and easy to install.
How did you get started selling rain chains?
I bought my first rain chain back in 2001 while I was visiting Japan. I was not very happy with the purchase because the product was made of low quality material and lacked functionality. I saw an opportunity in the marketplace because I thought I could design and produce better products.
I created my first rain chain as an experiment in my garage. I was an aggressive risk taker because I was not emotionally attached to the business; I figured I could not lose much by trying. I eventually quit my job as a webmaster so I could work on selling rain chains full time. The experiment that started in my garage grew into the industry leading company we are today.
How long have you been an entrepreneur?
I’ve never had a “regular job” — I’ve always worked for myself, and I’ve had several “careers” along those lines, from musician to webmaster to tangible goods businesses like this one.
One of the reasons I wanted to start the rain chains website was that I would be better equipped to help my customers who were involved in selling tangible goods. Working as a webmaster and musician only gave me experience selling services. Running a website shows you how to handle the logistical challenges of running a business.
What was the most challenging thing about starting your website?
How to present the product effectively, (rain chains are long and vertical), and how to describe it so a visitor quickly knows what a rain chain is, where it goes, and how it works.
I think visitors only have a few seconds on a homepage to know if they are in the “right place” or not.
How has the online experience changed since you started the website?
Marketing, advertising, the whole process of reaching target customers has become corporatized, codified and more rigid. There are also a myriad of channels and methods, using both push and pull technologies, to reach potential customers.
What is your day-to-day job like?
Everyone in my company can do anyone’s job for operations. Product development, procurement and marketing are mine alone. So you might find me in the warehouse packing an order, on the phone with a customer service call, or sketching out a new design on my whiteboard.
How does your creative process work?
Inspiration for new rain chains comes to me in two different ways. First, I see an opening in the market based because some feature is missing in products that already exist. In those cases I create a product that fills that void. I also find inspiration from everyday objects. I might be out getting a cup of coffee when I see a cool shape or name that could be used as a rain chain. I try to create demand for a product that people did not even realize they wanted.
How do you see future of eCommerce? What are the forces driving change?
eCommerce will become more and more corporatized, with players like Amazon being entities that one must deal with to reach customers. Tools like product videos, email marketing and social media all play important roles. My business especially depends on recommendation and referrals.
Nowadays people have certain expectation when shopping online. Products are supposed to be displayed a certain way; the shopping cart and checkout processes have each developed a specific protocol. Ten years ago people were more fluid about what was acceptable. People do not want to be directed to a shopping cart located on a third party website.
What about your products and marketing strategy made your company successful?
I will not compromise on quality or customer service. My products cost more, but our customers understand that they are purchasing a product they can count on. I try to give my customers a personal service experience, both on the website and by phone and email. Every employee has the authority to “make it right” when a customer needs something.
What do you enjoy most about working for yourself?
I like the flexibility it allows me, the control over how things are done, and the freedom to creatively express myself.