West Baton Rouge businesses search for a balance in the digital age
One West Side business is making strides to break into e-commerce, while another has just settled in its first storefront. Roughly eighty percent of Americans are online shoppers according to Pew Research, and yet here on the West Side face to face customer service still carries tremendous value.
As local business owners search for balance between online commerce and brick and mortar, they find a happy medium of both online and in-store shoppers in West Baton Rouge.
Diving into Digital
Sosis Boutique and Bella Grace Stationery and Gifts, both located along La. Hwy 1, started as online-only business ventures. But for Spillway Sportsman owner Scott Roe, getting into e-commerce is his plan to grow from his storefront.
Spillway Sportsman opened in 1978 and since then the goal has been to secure 80 percent of local business before it crosses the bridge Roe said. The store usually gets about 63 percent of that local business he said.
In 2013 Roe learned the hard way the value of integrating e-commerce with his storefront. The perceived likelihood that gun control legislation would be passed drove thousands of Americans to stock up on ammunition.
Roe’s business did not have a website set up for e-commerce and lost out on a potential $3 million in sales he said. Now, he’s designing a warehouse to exclusively handle e-commerce sales.
“Sales will only get so big unfortunately, and our growth potential is to reach $5 million but we won’t do that with just a brick and mortar,” Roe said.
E-commerce gives local businesses a chance to branch out and attract customers that a brick and mortar would otherwise be unable to do.
“My e-commerce is not local,” Roe said. “Most of it is done within North Dakota, Florida, Texas, New Mexico and New Jersey.”
Businesses have to be more adaptable to the digital landscape to survive, but sometimes it’s not always accommodating. The biggest challenge is competing with big online companies like Amazon, Roe said.
Advertising with Google and Amazon is much easier for large companies that have millions to spend on marketing than it is for local brick and mortar shops breaking into e-commerce, he said.
“There’s a big negative push by all of your search engines for any stores that sell firearms,” Roe said.
Firearms, for instance, are not allowed to be featured on Google Shopping. The search engine also will not display any promotions or discounts for weapons and gun supplies.
“[It’s] censorship in it’s finest form,” Roe said.
Big companies can afford to be at the top of search engines, but that’s an expense many small businesses like Spillway Sportsman can’t incur Roe said.
Brick and Mortar Still Bread and Butter
For Keller, owner of Bella Grace, brick and mortar is still her bread and butter she said. Her storefront remains busier than e-commerce sales because her focus is in customer service, which can be less personal online, she said.
“I’m a face-to-face person,” Keller said. “I offer white-glove service and give customers the attention they deserve.”
SoSis owners Annie-Claire Bass and Blankenship agreed, saying many of their customers come looking for great customer service and guidance.
“Everyone likes having something shipped to them,” Bass said. “But people still want to try on and touch and feel.”
Brick and mortar stores still face challenges, like 5 o’clock traffic.
“Traffic is insane a lot of times.” Keller said “So we wanted to be able to provide busy moms and lifestyles everything you need in one house.”
Catching people before they cross the bridge is the biggest challenge for Spillway Sportsman, Roe said. He usually gets about 63 percent of local business, but his goal is around 80 percent he said.
“It’s just a bridge, get over it,” is the slogan general manager Darren Hebert said. The slogan combats the attitude against coming to the West Side to shop, he said. And it’s working.
Roe and Hebert enjoy seeing customers from Livingston, Prairieville and Lafayette.
“They’re passing up Bass Pro and Cabelas to come to us and that’s pretty solid,” Roe said.
Keeping up with the Customers
More than 50 million small businesses have Facebook pages, according to Facebook.com.
Social media is the leader in SoSis Boutique’s marketing efforts, Blankenship said. In addition to running SoSis Boutique, Blankenship is an independent marketing consultant handling social media for various businesses in the area.
“I’m passionate about social media and what it does for businesses,” Blankenship said.
Seventy-one percent of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others according to a marketing study done by Ambassador, a marketing software company.
Spillway Sportsman uses their Facebook page to advertise discounts on breakfast to different businesses, have live giveaways and promote sales Hebert said.
“Passersby tend to think that we’re just a gas station,” Hebert said. “Social media provides a platform to get the word out about everything we offer.”
That platform also allows businesses to personify their brand and get to forge relationships with customers Blankenship said.
“We can show people that they’re not following a big box company,” she said “they’re following a local business with local owners.”
Keller, who claimed she did not post enough on social media, posts at least once every other day she said. SoSis and Spillway Sportsman spend at least 15 hours each week on social media and interacting with customers online.
“Social media can be very profitable, but it has to be done right,” Hebert said.