Lessons Learned: Air Controller Directs Online Traffic

Nathan Hartnett was an air traffic control officer at the Royal Australian Air Force in his hometown of Toowoomba (a town 79 kilometers west of Brisbane), Australia from 2001 to 2007.

His dad, circulation director of the Toowoomba Chronicle paper, suggested that Nathan to read the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books and imagine how he could make a healthy passive income.

“In 2006, my very best friend was selling sewing machines on eBay. He invited me to research eBay for market products which had reduced search engine competition, adequate traffic, and a healthy profit margin. I discovered men’s jewelry,” Hartnett said.

Hartnett met his future wife Tess as she was completing her teaching degree at University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba.

He decided to make an internet jewelry business which would give the pair the liberty to reside in various countries rather than simply visiting them.

“In September 2006 we made our first men’s ring sale on eBay,” Harnett said.

Gross revenue grew from AU$35,000 from June 2007 to AU$150,000 2 decades later; 60 percent of sales were from the U.S.

“About 2009, eBay started a race to the bottom for prices, rewarding the most affordable, high-volume sellers with the maximum search results. So we shut down our eBay site, launched Men’s Rings Online at 2010, and attempted additional stations such as party planning, markets, and wholesale distribution,” Hartnett said.

When gross earnings fell to AU$120,000 in 2013, the Hartnetts launched 30 sites — focusing on niche products with high margins — to check which brought the most sales from an assortment of search engine optimization methods.

Now, the Hartnetts run MensRingsOnline.com.au, MasksHQ.com.au, HammockHQ.com.au, TieHQ.com.au, BowTieHQ.com.au, ForeverFascinators.com.au, and international versions of these sites.

The sites listed gross sales of AU$300,000 in 2014: 60 percent by Men’s Rings Online, 20 percent from MasksHQ, and the rest from the other sites.

Hartnett jobs gross revenue in 2015 of AU$500,000 in 2015.

Men’s Rings Online

Shopping Carts and Web Design

Hartnett used the cart Ashop from 2010 to 2011, the open source cart osCommerce from 2011 to 2013, and since 2013 the free WordPress cart plugin WooCommerce.

Hartnett spent $2,000 to install Men’s Rings Online on the osCommerce platform and a further $3,000 with designers on Elance, the freelancer marketplace, to tackle ongoing adjustments and mobile-friendly versions.

When he discovered WooCommerce at 2013, Hartnett says he realized he could”clone” Men’s Rings Online to 30 market testing sites and modify the content himself.

“After the initial setup, WooCommerce’s non-existent costs meant that we could create dozens of markets at the same time, which could have been hideously expensive on other platforms,” Hartnett said.

Since 2014 Hartnett has been outsourcing graphic design, photo editing, and product descriptions.

“If we need something customized, we put work on Elance. The majority of our problems are solved with free, or nearly free, plugins,” Hartnett said.

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Credit Card Payments

Hartnett uses PayPal and Stripe for credit card processing. The latter costs AU$0.30 per transaction plus 1.75 percent with no monthly or setup charges, and no contract.

“PayPal’s fees differ depending on if it is a cross-border transaction, or which sort of card is used,” Hartnett said.

Order Management

In September 2013, Hartnett hired a programmer on Elance to make an order management system to pull all websites’ orders into a single platform.

“It cost about AU$1,200 and took eight months. But now our staff must go to only 1 place to print off select lists, labels, and enter tracking numbers from all sites, including the international sites,” Hartnett said.

Hosting

Hartnett has been utilizing the Austin, Texas-based hosting firm ASmallOrange.com since September 2013, which costs $5 per month per site.

“We have had no issues with hosting overseas [from the U.S.]. We simply search for speed and terrific company,” Hartnett said.

Employees

Hartnett’s wife Tess runs customer support from their home in Brisbane.

They have two part-time workers at a leased double-garage warehouse in Brisbane. One is Hartnett’s brother, that has been handling the transport since 2007. Another is a pick-and-packer who joined in July 2014.

“We will employ a third member in 2015 to assist with shipping and it’ll also provide more flexibility for our other staff members when they are sick or want vacations,” Hartnett said.

Search Engine Optimization

Hartnett thinks online retailers must know what words and phrases their shoppers use to look for their products.

“Keyword research will let you know exactly what words they [shoppers] use to look for the most popular styles, colors, and sizes for your products, and how you should name your classes,” Hartnett said.

He uses a keyword research tool named Longtail Guru, which creates keywords and provides competitor analysis of the top 10 Google results.

Now, Hartnett says his sites are rated number one for”mens wedding rings,””mens rings,””tungsten rings,””masquerade masks,””masquerade mask,” and”venetian masks” The websites are ranked number two for”titanium rings,” he says.

Shipping

Roughly 10 percent of Hartnett’s inventory is drop shipped. He plans to decrease this to five percent in 2015. The remainder is sent from his warehouse.

“While drop shipping has been a excellent way to check market products without holding stock, we would like to brand and send our own products to obtain better profit margins, better branding, better photographs, and a greater range,” Hartnett said.

Product Sourcing

Hartnett sources rings from Asia, hammocks from Australia, and masks by the U.S. and Asia.

In the last few decades, the Hartnetts have seen many factories in China, building relationships with providers.

“Most of them operate small companies just like us. Keeping a healthy, give-and-take relationship builds long-term trust, which often leads to better pricing, and lower minimum order amounts,” Hartnett said.

He utilizes PayPal or an escrow agency for payments, and requires providers that have sent damaged or wrong items to repair the issue at their own cost.

“You need to bring the’stick’ when establishing a new connection, or when a provider’s poor excellent control is beginning to cause problems,” Hartnett said.

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Inventory Management

Hartnett utilizes a WooCommerce plugin for his websites’ inventory management.

“We match our team’s stock take [physical stock count] against our sites’ tracking. If there are too many disagreements, we find where the failure is and fix it with better training, or better procedures,” Hartnett said.

Hartnett launched international variations of his sites this year but it was only in late November 2014 the stock management synchronized properly.

“We utilize the WooCommerce Stock Synchronization plugin, which cost 39 euros, from Pronamic. It instantly updates SKU accessibility across multiple websites. It didn’t work initially, but Pronamic bought it for us free of cost so that it functioned properly,” Hartnett said.

Accounting Software

Hartnett employs the accounting applications SAASU, an Australia-based cloud platform, but it isn’t incorporated into the sites’ backend.

“We export our bank statements and email them to our bookkeeper, who we found on oDesk [another freelancer market ]. Best choice ever!” said Hartnett.

Social Media

Hartnett says he doubts social media functions. He has not updated his firm Facebook pages (Men’s Rings Online, which has 182 enjoys, and Vurge Jewellery, which has 2,988 enjoys ) since May 2014. He hasn’t established Facebook pages for his other websites.

“We’ve got 3,000 fans from promotions and competitions but they have not been big spenders, so it is not worth our time,” Hartnett said.

However, he might test social websites for the international websites in 2015,”but only if it’s cost- and – time-effective.”

Expense Control

Hartnett loathes spending money unless he receives a definite return on investment. But he wishes he’d spent money much sooner on self-education and on outsourcing accounting, content writing, and graphic design.

“I believe I must have opened my pocketbook a bit more,” Hartnett said.

Customer Service

Hartnett stated selling high profit margin merchandise enables Tess to”go above and beyond” with clients.

“She is driven into our warehouse and then through the city to deliver urgent items, and shipped free replacements or free add-ons to compensate for any mistakes,” Hartnett said.

When one guy, who was married in two days, arranged the wrong-sized ring, Tess express-shipped him three rings in slightly different sizes so he’d have the ideal ring to the ceremony.

“The finest SEO any online merchant can have is excellent customer service,” Hartnett said.

Biggest Mistakes

Hartnett wishes he’d learnt SEO much sooner.

In 2013 he spent $10,000 to test an assortment of search engine optimization techniques from purchasing link systems to generating content and contributing to blogs and forums.

These tests helped him understand how to create traffic and determine what market products sold best.

“I wish I had found WooCommerce before — the other platforms were stiff and expensive — rather than made decisions out of desperation once the international financial crises occurred,” Hartnett said.

Biggest Successes

In 2012 Tess Hartnett won a contest to represent Alibaba, the enormous China-based market, as its female ambassador.

“We moved to China and Tess spoke at several conferences about finding good suppliers in Asia and choosing products your customers — not you — like,” Hartnett said.

The recognition buoyed the pair’s confidence and encouraged them to explore promoting additional niche products.

Hartnett believes that this award, and the intensive search engine optimization testing process, helped them turn their companies around.

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