It took less than a minute and a little help from the queen of daytime TV to catapult Rochelle Behrens’ business into a new spectrum.
On Jan. 13, Behrens’ business, The Shirt, was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show for 58 seconds. That exposure resulted in 25,000 visitors to her Web site www.the-shirt.com and 1,000% sales increase in the four days following the show.
Being featured on Oprah is a godsend for any business owner, but it can also cause what can be most appropriately called “a wonderful problem” for budding businesses.
Oprah’s producers contacted 28-year old Behrens within a week of receiving her product in October. The producers wanted samples and 400 of her dual-button technology shirts to be given away to the audience. “Being a small business, we didn’t have that kind of inventory,” recalled Behrens, “But I didn’t want to say no to a call from Oprah.”
The Shirt by Rochelle Behrens formally launched in November 2010, and Behrens tried to prepare for the “Oprah effect,” but it’s a tough phenomenon to predict. Despite her efforts to boost production, revamp her Web site and outsource fulfillment and distribution, Behrens still couldn’t meet the immediate demand. “I have, happily, a lot of customers waiting for goods and that is an uncomfortable feeling,” said Behrens.
The unintended consequences of an unexpected demand boost can deplete a business owner’s inventory and strain a company’s operations. And that, can result in what no business owner wants: unhappy customers.
Doug Fleener, president and managing partner at Lexington, MA-based Dynamic Experiences Group (www.dynamicexperiencesgroup.com), recommended business owners under promise and over deliver.
“Make sure you can fulfill your customers’ expectations. If you are on backorder, present it in a way that makes the customer feel special,” said Fleener, “Consider rewarding customers for waiting, offering a discount on their next purchase or free shipping.”
On her father’s advice, Behrens outsourced fulfillment and distribution of her product. Prior to outsourcing, Behrens personally took orders, taped up boxes in her apartment and delivered them to UPS. “Integration took a little while, but it’s great. It’s automated with my Web site and they have helped take a lot of boxes out of my apartment,” she said.
But outsourcing requires certain considerations. Fleener of Dynamic Experiences Group warned, “Articulate your expectations and make sure that orders are fulfilled the way you want to articulate your brand. You used to be able to fulfill all the fine details and all of a sudden, to meet demand, you can lose control.”
Prior to being featured on “Oprah” Behrens launched her Web site with a customized shopping cart. “I quickly realized I would out grow it and I scrapped it within a week,” recalled Behrens, “I hired a company to build a more sophisticated backend and beef up server space. But even the beefed-up one didn’t hold up.”
Behrens’ shirts can now be found at National Jean Company and Fred Segal. Soon they will be available at Bloomingdales and Von Maur. But her Web site still serves as the major source of sales and the face of her company, so if her Web site crashes, so does her bottom line.
Navin Ganeshan, senior director of product strategy at online services provider Network Solutions (www.networksolutions.com), recommended business owners review their bandwidth restrictions and capabilities with their hosts if they anticipate a demand spike. “For Oprah-type traffic we suggest a customer moves to a dedicated server,” said Ganeshan.
He also recommended that business owners buy domain names that reflect common misspellings of their business name and review their privacy and security measures. “For a business whose core function is selling, you want an e-commerce service designed from ground up,” suggested Ganeshan, “Your hosting service can provide this, but it can be much more expensive.”
While Behrens recognized that her company experienced the optimal launch she is also cautious about its growth. “The opportunity on “Oprah” is phenomenal and it can set up a business to be successful,” said Behrens, “but it is up to us to sustain it.”