Lessons Learned: Million-dollar Jeweler Launched with $300

Robin Weber began his jewelry site when he was 18, with $300 from selling his high school textbooks and from tutoring classmates. He now runs a multi-million dollar enterprise.

In 1996, at a decade old, Weber, who grew up near Stuttgart, Germany, migrated with his parents to Belleair Bluffs, near Tampa, Fla..

Born to a family of entrepreneurs — his paternal grandmother ran a restaurant, his maternal grandfather owned a manufacturing plant, and his parents started a web site design business when they came from the U.S. — Weber always knew he would run his own firm.

Thanks to a number of his parents’ business contacts, he began selling jewelry on a drop shipping basis on his web page, BillytheTree.com.

When clients proved reluctant to invest more than $100 on jewellery on his website once the recession hit in 2009, Weber expanded his product line to include pieces for $50 to $100, which sold well.

“Doing this enabled me to expand the company enough in 2010 to start a brick-and-mortar shop in Belleair Bluffs, which could adapt website operations,” Weber said.

BillyTheTree.com’s gross revenue has grown from $15,000 in 2004 to $1.6 million in 2013, with projected earnings of more than $2 million to 2014.

Shopping Carts and Hosting

Weber chose MonsterCommerce’s shopping cart since it included hosting, excellent features, and responsive customer support at a reasonable price.

In 2006, Network Solutions purchased MonsterCommerce. Weber uses Network Solution’s nsCommerceSpace shopping cart and hosting program, for $499 a month.

Weber enjoys the cart’s advanced features, such as abandoned shopping cart retrieval, an API, and flexible design options for classes, products, and product listings.

He explained the cart’s mobile-optimized site stays”buggy and unusable,” forcing him to create his desktop site as user-friendly as possible for mobile users.

“I don’t need to try a different shopping cart using a mobile-optimized edition, because I trust Network Solutions will repair this, and migration is only a massive hassle,” Weber said.

Web Design

Weber’s parents built his first site on the MonsterCommerce content management system, which provided basic templates that they could customize.


“Soon I was doing the majority of the design work, together with my parents doing the remainder; I heard Cascading Style Sheets, HTML, and JavaScript over time,” Weber said.

His site has had four key facelifts. Six months ago, Weber revised the site navigation to reflect its growing product choice.

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Credit Card Payments

BillyTheTree.com processes credit card payments through Chase Paymentech and PayPal.

Weber pays 2.39 percent to Chase Paymentech but considers the rate is higher because of hidden charges, penalties, different transaction types, and increased prices from the significant credit card companies.

He’s upset by the chargebacks and the disputes procedure and said banks must examine customers making regular dispute claims as”there are a few men and women who commit fraud with many different online retailers.”

“The system does not discourage them from committing these abuses, and it is my wallet which feels the consequences,” Weber said.

Order and Inventory Management

Weber sells jewelry through his own website, his physical shop, eBay, and Amazon.

Like most online retailers with many channels, Weber has occasionally accidentally oversold the identical thing — i.e., having just one in stock but selling one each on multiple websites.

Maintaining product information present, eliminating discontinued items, and launch new products across all channels has been a struggle, and this season, Weber sought software to deal with these issues.

He’s working with Baltimore, Md.-based SalesWarp, an order-management-software supplier, to help manage inventory, suppliers, purchase ordering, and new product creation.

“This is almost ready to go live after costing tens of thousands of dollars and taking eight months ahead, but I am very optimistic about what it could achieve,” Weber said.


BillyTheTree.com has three full-time workers (two in customer service and transport, one in new product creation) and one part-time worker responsible for packaging at Weber’s office and physical shop in Belleair Bluffs.

“We began hiring in 2008, with the first job being a customer support position. The majority of my employees have been with the firm for decades, so we’ve got a very strong group,” Weber said.

Search Engine Optimization

Weber educated himself search engine optimisation, which stays in-house.

He admits that writing unique content and sticking to”white hat SEO tactics” can take some time to create an impact, but BillyTheTree.com ranks well for its best selling group, magnetic jewelry.

While he realizes his website’s SEO can be radically improved, Weber won’t outsource this to SEO companies.

“Many SEO companies are reluctant to put forth the work and charge exorbitant fees for performing a small number of meta tags. I’ve simply not been able to justify this high cost,” Weber said.


Weber ships requests from his Belleair Bluffs assumptions using Endicia software, which integrates with U.S. Postal Service and allows customers choose their favorite USPS option. His team then prints postage-paid shipping labels.

He also utilizes ShipWorks applications, for eBay and Amazon orders.

“We ship 99 percent of our parcels using USPS and we provide free delivery for orders over $45,” Weber said.

He won’t ship to Africa, South America, or Italy after receiving orders at the first two decades of the provider’s history from such places that were, respectively, 95 per cent, 50 percent, and 45 percent fraudulent.

“We stopped sending to those places. Really, how much longer would any company keep shipping to any location with numbers like these?” Weber said.

Product Sourcing

Weber found it tough to secure suppliers initially.

“I did not fit the standard jeweler stereotype as a result of my age, and it [jewellery ] is a rather small, closed community in which many relationships are shaped by word-of-mouth,” Weber said.

He attended jewelry trade shows, seeking well-connected industry figures who might help him get a foot in the door.

“I have fostered strong relationships with a few important people, who have helped me expand my list of partners and suppliers,” Weber said.

BillyTheTree.com sources magnetic jewelry, silver jewelry, and distinctive watch brands from American designers and other artisans worldwide on a drop-shipping or wholesale basis.

Approximately 40 percent of earnings comes from the site, 25 percent comes from all Amazon and eBay, and 10 percent from Weber’s brick-and-mortar shop.

Today, the website features over 25,000 products.

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Accounting Software

None of the provider’s accounting is done internally and does Weber utilize accounting software.

“I have worked with the same accountant for several years, and I trust him. I just forward him all needed information,” Weber said.

Social Media

Surprisingly for a younger merchant, Weber is scornful of social media as a promotional vehicle, and won’t devote resources to it.

BillyTheTree.com’s business page on Twitter was last updated in November 2012, its FB page has occasional new content, and its YouTube video clips are few.

“Most individuals don’t actually earn money on Facebook or Twitter,” Weber said.

Expense Control

Weber avoids paying for marketing or advertising that may not offer you a quantifiable return on investment.

He spends over $20,000 a month on pay-per-click marketing because he will see a direct and immediate growth in sales.

“However, after squandering thousands on choosing the wrong keywords and geographical locations, and accidentally picking display network advertisements, I take my time when doing PPC,” Weber said.

Weber is frugal. He utilizes an inexpensive inkjet printer to publish his packing slips and brochures, and refills his toner cartridges with bulk-purchased liquid ink.

“Ignore the printer companies which say refills will mess up your printer or be cluttered: you can save thousands of dollars by refilling ink,” Weber said.

Customer Service

Since 2012, Weber has enabled customers to make enquiries and place orders over the telephone, 24 hours per day, through Appletree Replies, a U.S.-based call centre.

“While using a 24-hour customer support line has produced no substantial difference to our earnings, Appletree frees up my workers from answering the telephone to focus on email enquiries, shipping, and inventory management,” Weber said.

He stopped his live chat support after he discovered it slowed down his website speed and didn’t increase earnings.

Biggest Mistakes

Weber cites spending nearly $3,000 on a local TV ad to market his brick-and-mortar shop in 2010 as one of the worst choices.

“We saw almost no earnings from it following a five-week campaign. I don’t think TV works unless you’ve got a whole lot of cash to dedicate to it, and you’ll be able to manage to run spots over and over again,” Weber said.

He also regrets keeping product lines which didn’t sell, typically non-established brands which were usually overpriced.

“I committed far too much time, energy, and money trying to find poor performers to market. We’ve got the flexibility to rapidly change to brands that market, and we should not be scared to drop the ones who don’t,” Weber said.

Biggest successes

Weber said his biggest milestone to date is turning $300 to a company with over $1 million in revenue in 2010.

“Four decades later, we are on track to double it,” Weber said.

He is proud about hiring his first employee in 2008.

“To know that my attempts imply another individual earns an income was incredibly rewarding to me then and is to this day,” Weber said.

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