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Media Coverage of Carolina Rustica


Carolina Rustica has been fortunate to receive significant press coverage over the last few years. Whether it is about our use of technology platforms to bolster our business or our president Richard Sexton offering commentary on the state of e-commerce today, we hope you will find these articles interesting and useful. We are as transparent as possible with regards to company information, since our approach to business, whether in-store or online, is based on an honest and open interaction with our customers.



Carolina Rustica Implements New, Robust E-commerce Platform to Meet Increasing Traffic and Sales Volumes
Online Specialty Furniture and Lighting Retailer Looks to Magento for a Customized Solution Capable of Supporting Dozens of Lifestyle-Specific Microsites

Concord, NC (June 1, 2012)Carolina Rustica ( www.carolinarustica.com ), a specialty home furnishings and lighting retailer, announced today that steady business growth has prompted the company to re-launch its e-commerce store on the highly configurable Magento platform. After 6 months of hard work, our team of in-house website experts, in conjunction with 2 outside agencies, have created a website that reflects our high-end furniture and lighting business. The new Magento platform will offer more opportunities to better segment our business, creating a more streamline and user-based experience. The new platform will give us the power to better serve our customers -- this is just the beginning for us. Carolina Rustica is anticipating the launch of several new lifestyle-specific microsites, each one designed to sell specific types of products geared towards particular design styles and motifs in the very near future.

We are incredibly excited about extending our brand in a more targeted way to consumers around the country, and delivering a much faster, more streamlined online shopping experience,” said Richard Sexton, president and founder of the 12-year old company. “The upscale design, easy navigation, and extensive categories will make for quicker item selection, easier checkout and more satisfied buyers.

Carolina Rustica is a high-end furniture and lighting retailer that operates both a website and several retail galleries in Concord, NC. The company has 15 employees and has been in business since 2000, maintaining an “A+” rating with the Better Business Bureau.The company collaborated with several technology consultants and ultimately selected Magento, which is an open source e-commerce suite of products owned by Ebay.

We love the flexibility in design and functionality provided by Magento,” said Chris Knollmeyer, website/IS manager for Carolina Rustica. “The ability to create thematic microsites is also a huge plus, since we have many different product styles in our 75,000-product catalog. With Magento, we will be able to build a family of high-quality, highly targeted sites that meet the sophisticated shopping needs of our customers.” Knollmeyer added that a lighting site would most likely be the first spin-off from the core site crlighting.com. 


Our sales have been up 40% over the last three years, and traffic numbers online continue to increase. We knew taking our online store to the next level was critical,” said Sexton. “One of the things customers like most about us is our service-oriented approach, and we want to ensure that site visitors always have the best experience when shopping our stores – whether online or brick and mortar. This new platform will help us make that happen.


Be sure to lookout for the new microsites being offered by Carolina Rustica, which will include crlighting.com, crmodernhome.com, croutdoorfurniture.com, crhomeofficefurniture.com and crkidsroom.com, a combination of style and functional-oriented sites.


North Carolina Furniture Store Announces Expansion

Carolina Rustica in Concord announces plans to expand their storefront.

Concord, NC, August 15, 2011 — Carolina Rustica in Concord, North Carolina, announced plans to add an additional 5,000 sf of retail showroom space at its Gibson Mill location.

Showroom Expansion

Carolina Rustica grew 50% in business over the past two years. The expansion will allow the store to carry new manufacturers of furniture and lighting and have more space to showcase their existing product lines.

“We are excited about this opportunity to show more high end home furnishing and lighting from other manufacturing partners. With furniture stores closing elsewhere, customers are making longer drives to visit Carolina Rustica. Our expanded showroom will make their drive worthwhile,” said company president Richard Sexton.

Carolina Rustica has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and is a platinum member of the Interior Design Society. Over the past 11 years, the furniture and lighting store has been known for offering an honest and positive selling experience to their clients.

Work in Progress: Grand Opening :10/8/2011.

“We believe in brick-and-mortar retail and are delighted to expand our current showroom to offer more choices to the consumer,” said Sexton.

The expansion will also give Carolina Rustica the opportunity to team up with the owners of the historic Gibson Mill as they expand their flagship location. The expanded space will also give partnering manufacturers more room to showcase, in an economy where many furniture manufacturers are struggling.

“Retail has not exactly enjoyed growth the last few years, especially in our industry. Our valued manufacturing partners will have a greater floor presence with our new expansion, something they have seen less of in this economy,” said Sexton.

The expansion will occur later this month, giving Carolina Rustica 10,000 square-feet of showroom space.


 

Internet Retailer Magazine
October, 2010

We were recently surprised (in a good way) when an article popped up in one of our favorite industry magazines, Internet Retailer, concerning inventory management. The article has some choice quotes from Carolina Rustica founder and president Richard Sexton, and you can read it by clicking on this link. You will get redirected to Internet Retailer, so make sure you click the back button to return to our blog.

The article, entitled "The Right Message", by Senior Editor Thad Reuter, points out that inventory build-up is an issue for all successful online retailers such as Carolina Rustica. There are close-out sites that specialize in liquidating inventory, or there are some other obvious options like well-known auction sites. However, here at Carolina Rustica, we choose to sell our closeouts, floor samples, and customer cancellations through our very active Clearance Section. Full of incredible deals at up to 60% off of retail, this part of our website is constantly changing, as we take advantage of special deals from our own manufacturers and pass the savings on to our customers. We also have a special In-Store Clearance section, which has lots of great floor items at huge savings, as well as some manufacturer specials. Be sure to check out our Lexington Furniture Clearance Section, one of our most popular lines. Clearance items are a great way to bring down the total cost of re-doing a room...even if its one or two items. As the article points out, we like to keep our clearance and regular-priced items together so customers can take advantage of both!

....Read the full article here


Mobile Commerce Daily
October, 2010

From our friends at Mobile Commerce Daily, here is another article about our continuing efforts to make our site fully accessible to mobile shoppers, through mShopper's exciting new platform. You can find more information on mShopper by clicking this link, and you can read the full article by Dan Butcher of Mobile Commerce Daily by clicking here

Furniture retailer Carolina Rustica unveils mobile commerce site
Carolina Rustica tapped mShopper’s new self-service B2B mobile commerce platform, which is designed to help retailers of any size to design and launch a customized, feature-packed mobile storefront in under one hour that can be viewed on any smartphone.

“Our objective [for launching a mobile commerce platform], like all ecommerce sites, is to get our product and our message out to as many potential customers as possible within our target demographic,” said Richard Sexton, president of Carolina Rustica, Concord, NC. “Having a Web site by itself is not enough.

...read the whole article here!


The 6th Annual Designer's Summer Luncheon at AmericasMart in Atlanta
July 17th, 2010

Carolina Rustica's Richard Sexton will be going to the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Show at AmericasMart this week, to speak at the 6th Annual Designer's Summer Luncheon. He will be speaking on a subject near and dear to his heart, social networking and website visibility. "How to Increase Your Visibility Right Now! Blogs, Facebook, Twitter & More" will be a workshop-style presentation given to designers and other members of the furniture trade attending the always-vibrant AmericasMart market, which now includes many showrooms of furniture suppliers to Carolina Rustica. This is an exciting opportunity to share with our valued trade partners some of the "best practices" that define how to reach out to customers via Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and other forms of new media. It will be a great educational opportunity for both the presenter and the audience, as there is always something new on the horizon when it comes to social media!

CONCORD RESIDENT RICHARD SEXTON DESCENDS ON WASHINGTON FOR IAB LONG TAIL ALLIANCE FLY-IN
Second Annual Capitol Hill “Fly-In” Gives Voice to Critical Role of Ad-Supported Internet for Small Businesses in the U.S. Economy

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2010 – For the second annual IAB Long Tail Alliance Washington Fly-In, Concord resident Richard Sexton, was one of 46 small publishers and e-commerce entrepreneurs brought together by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) to tell their elected representatives about the important role played by the advertising-supported Internet in empowering small business growth in America. The Long Tail web publishers representing 14 states spent June 15 on Capitol Hill meeting with 35 House Districts and 12 Senate Offices including members of the Senate Commerce Committee. The Congressional action was part of a two day event, hosted by the IAB to showcase the importance of the ad-supported Internet to the U.S. economy.

Richard Sexton runs Carolina Rustica, a high-end furniture and lighting retailer that operates both a website and retail store in Concord, NC. The company has 10 employees and has been in business since 2000.

“The Long Tail Alliance is an army of entrepreneurs who have created businesses powered by interactive advertising, and their ranks are growing every day,” said Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO, IAB. “It is critical that legislators and regulators understand their challenges and their contributions to the new media revolution, as well as the value they bring to the U.S. economy.”

The IAB Long Tail Alliance Washington Fly-In launched in June 2009 with the release of “The Economic Value of the Advertising-Supported Internet Ecosystem,” the first comprehensive analysis of the economic impact of this ever-more important medium. Among its findings: 2.1%, or $300 billion, of the total U.S. GDP is contributed by the ad-supported Internet, which has created 3.1 million jobs, including 20,000 small businesses. At the same time, the IAB also released “I Am the Long Tail,” a seven-minute video that ties together vignettes from Long Tail publishers across the nation and puts a human face on the Long Tail. It is part of a larger, ongoing effort to collect and share the Long Tail story in online videos at iamthelongtail.com.

Mr. Sexton visited four Congressional offices, including those of Representative Larry Kissel of the 8th Congressional District. Kissel maintains an office at Gibson Mill in Concord, directly below the retail store of Carolina Rustica, in a 105 year old former textile mill. “It was a great opportunity to advocate on behalf of an issue that jeopardizes the ease and use of the internet as we now know it. It was also my first experience in working directly with Congressional offices, and I have to say, it was very exciting to be a part of the democratic process”

“Providing an opportunity for IAB Long Tail publishers to speak directly to Congresspeople is the best means to bring to life the very real threat posed by the proposed regulation of interactive advertising,” said Mike Zaneis, Vice President, Public Policy, IAB. “These business owners are the new face of ‘mom and pop’ shops. They represent a diversity of voices that simply could not exist without interactive advertising. This event provides them with a unique forum to be heard.”

This year's Fly-In also included a full day of training sessions, strategic planning panels and roundtable discussions created specifically to address the business interests of small publishers. Long Tail members and ad network and advertising agency executives shared actionable insights on how the community of small publishers can improve their businesses. The two-day event also served as a unique networking opportunity for small publishers, who, for the most part, work from their homes and have limited opportunities to meet other small business owners like themselves.

About the IAB
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is comprised of more than 460 leading media and technology companies who are responsible for selling 86% of online advertising in the United States. On behalf of its members, the IAB is dedicated to the growth of the interactive advertising marketplace, of interactive’s share of total marketing spend, and of its members’ share of total marketing spend. The IAB educates marketers, agencies, media companies and the wider business community about the value of interactive advertising. Working with its member companies, the IAB evaluates and recommends standards and practices and fields critical research on interactive advertising. Founded in 1996, the IAB is headquartered in New York City with a Public Policy office in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.iab.net.

Find more information on this event here: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0610/38561.html


Associated Press, May 2, 2010

We were the subject of an Associated Press article on how small to medium-size furniture businesses have coped with the recession. We felt is was a very accurate portrayal of Carolina Rustica's efforts to stay ahead of the curve in difficult times, and how we are committed to growth through advertising. The article, by AP reporter Emery Dalesio, appeared in newspapers across the country, including The Atlanta Journal Constitution, MSNBC News, The Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post, The Tri-City Herald, and a host of others. Click on any of the links above to read the article.


From Google's Small Business Network Update - Edition #5 (Feb 2010)

On Network Neutrality
Last month, we filed our comments on the FCC's proposed rules that would protect and promote open broadband pipes to the Internet. The Open Internet Coalition, of which Google is a member, also filed comments, including two stories from members of our Small Business Network. Here's what they had to say:

"As a viable business, we employ nine individuals in a region hard-hit by layoffs across all sectors. We pay taxes and help support over 100 suppliers of furniture, lighting, and services. We participate in community programs and maintain an 'A+' rating with the Better Business Bureau. And yet, none of this would exist if our customers had anything less than unimpeded access to websites across the internet. We share this conviction with other retailers and our competitors, both large and small, across the country. As businesses, we expect to pay for advertising visibility across the search engine spectrum. Expecting our customers to pay for tiered access would neutralize our advertising efforts and cripple otherwise vibrant businesses like Carolina Rustica."
Richard Sexton, Carolina Rustica


From "Internet Retailer: The Dollars Are In The Details" (January 2010)
Here is an excerpt from one of our industry's primary sources of information, Internet Retailer. I have been honored to speak at their last conference in June 2009, and every once in awhile we appear in print as well. Its the go-to source of information for all things internet + retail, and has become the industry bible for the latest technological developments in internet commerce. Here is an excerpt:

CarolinaRustica.com redid its search box after a design review revealed that only about 50% of shoppers were using the site search box to locate products. Even though key pages featured an advanced engine equipped with guided navigation and multiple ways to search for products by category, sub-category, brand, price and other parameters, many customers still weren't using site search.

"We cater to older shoppers who aren't the most web-savvy," says Richard Sexton, CEO. "We thought we had made advanced site search very available to our customers, but the tool was hidden by a poor design. Instead of using the site search engine, shoppers were clicking on our shop by room or brand buttons and starting their search from there."

Read More Here.....


Carolina Rustica and Richard Sexton Featured in Cabarrus Business Magazine (June 2009)

Locally, Richard Sexton, owner of Carolina Rustica, finds that even small changes make a difference for the planet. Since its founding in 2000, Carolina Rustica, a home furnishings retailer, has embraced recycling. “I began this business after an around-the-world trek with my wife, Cheryl, in 1994. Even before then, I was an avid hiker and outdoorsman. I am extremely concerned about the depletion of our natural resources and destruction of wildlife habitat.......Read More Here (a PDF will open)


From Mulitchannel Merchant: Social Climbing: Niche Marketers are Finding New Customers Thanks to Social Media (June 1, 2009)

..."Blogging provides a serious opportunity to highlight products, trends, customer feedback and occasional promotions, Sexton says. Carolina Rustica's blog, The Daily Designer, is about 80% informational and 20% promotional. Sexton says with the blog, as with Twitter or any other social medium, the approach has to be soft-sell"..........Read More Here

Furniture World Logo

Furnishings team runs in N.C. Marathon
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 By: Furniture Today Staff

HIGH POINT — Carolina Rustica, a Concord, N.C.-based home furnishings and lighting retailer, partnered with supplier Currey & Co. to field a team of runners in the United Healthcare of the Carolinas North Carolina Marathon, held here May 2.

Included among the Carolina Rustica/Currey & Co. team were Charlie Engle, a Greensboro, N.C. endurance athlete; Ted Frank, a physician from Charlotte; Bobby Christiansen, MB-F Inc, Greensboro; Richard Sexton, Carolina Rustica; and Ron Hales, Thomasville Furniture.

The event, which started and ended in downtown High Point, included a 26.2-mile marathon, a half-marathon of 13.1 miles and a family 5-kilometer race.

Proceeds from the events benefited Foster Friends of North Carolina, a nonprofit group working to improve the lives of children in foster care.

....read more here


Furniture World Logo

Race in High Point Will Benefit Foster Friends of NC
Thursday, April 23, 2009 By: Furniture World Magazine

Carolina Rustica, a North Carolina retailer of home furnishings and lighting, announced that it has partnered with one of its primary suppliers, Currey and Company, to enter a sponsored team in the upcoming United Healthcare of the Carolinas North Carolina Marathon.  

....read more here


Multichannel Merchant logo

Carolina Rustica CEO spills SEO Secrets
Apr 6, 2009 3:55 PM, By Richard Sexton

The rise of personalized search (a la Google), social networking platforms, and consumers' increasing reliance on local and mobile search have created new opportunities to gain visibility for your Website through good SEO.

This past January alone, more than 60 million people used their mobile devices to access online information. With good SEO, your Website has a significant opportunity to be found by these users.

SEO also plays a role in maximizing your search engine marketing budget. Put another way, SEO is more cost-effective than paid search programs.

For example, the .10/click we paid for our keywords in 1997 is $3/click today for the same keywords. And there is no end to the number of new competitors we see every year, which further drives up the cost of these terms for our paid search campaigns.

....read more here


Integrated Solutions For Retailers, November 2008
Is Your Online Search Tool Costing You Sales?
This article by Erin Harris explains the challenges we faced regarding on-site search, how we decided on SLI Systems, and how the search solution was executed. After implementing a hosted search service, our online store increased sales 25%....read more here.

During the last High Point Furniture Market, owner Richard Sexton spoke with Mike Lorenc from Google regarding use of Google AdWords to promote the furniture business. The National Home Furnishings Association is one of our important industry trade groups that provides resources and seminars to industry members, and maintains a big presence at the market. This article appeared in the National Home Furnishings Association's NHFA Retailer magazine, March 2009 issue (page 51). Carolina Rustica uses paid search from providers like Google to bring visitors to our site. This nice article summarizes how we use Google AdWords and how we measure the success of that program. Read more on our blog

Recently Carolina Rustica partnered with MyDesignSecrets.com in an exclusive giveaway of the beautiful Palazzo ceiling fan. We had an impressive turn out and the response to the giveaway was amazing! The winner of this gorgeous ceiling fan was in shock and simply ecstatic as you can tell by her reaction below:

"WOW!! I'm so excited; this will look so good in my living room! Thank you so much!!"

Sheila H.
Kansas City , MO

mydesignsecrets

Click here to read all of the reviews and comments

We would like to thank everyone who participated and also give a special thanks to MyDesignSecrets for their efforts in this promotion.


Carolina Rustica Recently Featured in Web Marketing For Dummies! Just Released! Jan Zimmerman's second edition of this incredibly user-friendly "Dummies" book shows you how to make your site search engine friendly, create an online marketing plan, and use analytical tools to see how your website is performing. Owner Richard Sexton, and Carolina Rustica, are used as a case study in Part V, "Maximizing Your Web Success". Richard explains how Carolina Rustica uses all of the free tools provided by Google Analytics to make subtle changes in the website and enhance the user experience. The popular "Dummies" format makes it even easier to understand how to run your online business (Hint: there are no shortcuts!). We found it helpful ourselves...after all, its always good to return to the basics. So there is indeed something for everyone in this book. Click here to buy this helpful book on Amazon!

Carolina Rustica / Richard Sexton In the News: Podcast Links
1. Interview with Scott Fox, author of Internet Riches, on E-commerce success. (Sept. 2008) - This is a one-hour discussion with the popular author regarding pay-per-click (PPC) online advertising, which is one of the ways Carolina Rustica attracts customers to our site. Richard discusses details of these advertising strategies as well as general small-business advice and recommendations with Scott (visit his informative website by clicking here).

2. Interview with Shaun Ryan, CEO of SLI Systems, on the history of Carolina Rustica and retail store issues. (March 2008) - They talk about the history of the company - how Richard's trip to Tibet started his retail business through to their recent relocation into a larger retail store. Richard explains how Carolina Rustica uses their physical store to improved customer service and increased online sales. Length 25 mins 16 secs.

3. Practical E-Commerce Podcast with Mitch Bettis. (Late 2006) - Richard Sexton has parlayed his 10 years of brick-and-mortar success into a dynamic multichannel sales business with Carolina Rustica. With a combination of brick-and-mortar and online sales, Approximately 15 percent of his total sales come from his brick-and-mortar store and 85 percent come from his online sales channels. Sexton is looking at adding additional brick-and-mortar locations, but continues to take a conservative approach to company growth. Carolina Rustica was profiled in the November issues of Practical eCommerce and Richard recently spoke with Contributing Editor Mitch Bettis.


Carolina Rustica / Richard Sexton In the News: YouTube Links : Google Case Study on Carolina Rustica

Carolina Rustica was honored to be chosen by Google to be the subject of a Google feature in which select businesses were profiled due to their success using Google Adwords. This video really captures the essence of Carolina Rustica, right down to the parrot.


Integrated Solutions for Retailers Carolina Rustica / Richard Sexton In the News: Print Media Links
1. Carolina Rustica Story on Site Search, Integrated Solutions for Retailers, November 2008
2. Carolina Rustica aims to leverage Web success, Furniture Today, July 2008
3. Carolina Rustica new store opening reported in the Charlotte Business Journal, June 2008
4. Google Adwords Success Story (PDF and link to Google video about Carolina Rustica)
5. STORES Magazine (monthly national retail magazine)
6. SLI Systems Case Study on Carolina Rustica (direct link to PDF format)
7. Business Today (weekly NC business publication)
8. Internet Retailer (monthly e-commerce magazine/e-journal)
9. Practical E-Commerce (monthly e-commerce magazine/e-journal)
10. E-Commerce Guide (e-journal/newsletter)

Furniture Today logo

Carolina Rustica aims to leverage Web success
By Thomas Russell -- Furniture Today, 7/14/2008

CONCORD, N.C. — Since its inception 12 years ago, retailer Carolina Rustica has derived around 85% of its sales from the Internet.

While that's helped spur an average 45% growth during the past six years, company President Richard Sexton wants to generate closer to 50% of its sales from traffic in its bricks-and-mortar store here. Based on 2007 sales of $3.7 million, that would amount to just over $1.8 million.

“We are trying to be a little less transactional and more relationship oriented,” he said.

The company's solution has been to expand its retail space here, with a new 3,500-square-foot showroom at Gibson Mill, a newly renovated former textile mill. The location replaces a 1,300-square-foot store Carolina Rustica occupied for the past three years near the Concord Mills mall, about eight miles away.

The new store has an adjoining 1,750-square-foot warehouse, which allows sales associates to check immediately if an item is in stock. The company's office staff also is in the same space to answer customer questions. Previously, the warehouse and office had been about 12 miles from the former store.

Sexton said the retail operation has room to grow in the same building.

“The whole idea is to really capitalize on our name recognition and drive more designer traffic into the store,” he said.

The company also wants to broaden its mix beyond its 70 current furniture and lighting suppliers to include even higher-end companies. The plan is to add case goods and upholstery vendors. As a category, upholstery has been added to the sales floor within the past two months.

Some of Casa Rustica's current suppliers are Lexington Home Brands, Johnston Casuals, Charleston Forge, Palecek, Wesley Allen, Bauer International and Currey & Co.

Sexton said the company will maintain its online presence, but that he hopes to use the new store to generate repeat business and word-of- mouth advertising from satisfied customers. He also plans to do more advertising about the new location in the local media.

“The Internet has a big place (in our business), but it will never substitute for a brick-and-mortar presence,” he said. “The Internet and brick-and-mortar location should leverage off each other.”


Store Magazine logo

A Word to the Wise
By Fred Minnick --Stores Magazine, November 2007

Richard Sexton loves the Internet. The president of Carolina Rustica only operates one store, but the company still generates upwards of $4 million in revenues annually. That's because 85 percent of the Concord, N.C.-based store's sales come via e-commerce.

The premium furniture operation targets interior designers and 35- to 55-year-old women in the upper-income bracket. You won't find a full-page Carolina Rustica ad in Architecture Digest or a sponsorship at a nearby country club, however. That's because the company pumps 80 percent of its advertising budget – 10 percent of revenue – into Google AdWords.

The company buys 2,000 to 3,000 relevant keywords and phrases, ranging from brand names like Wesley Allen to specific items like “iron countertop bracket” to broader terms like “table.”

Sexton has used Google AdWords since 2002, and the program has led to millions in online sales. It's also boosted in-store sales. After seeing a search-engine ad, Sexton says, some customers make the trek to the store.

“I'm amazed at how far people drive to come to our store to see samples,” he says. “AdWords helps us get the exposure that we probably wouldn't get otherwise.”

Carolina Rustica also buys keywords on Yahoo!, and uses shopping comparison search engines like Price Grabber, Shopzilla and NexTag. These comprise a relatively small chunk of the company's marketing dollars, however, and Sexton has no plans to transfer earmarked Google monies to other mediums. If anything, Sexton is building his company around Google's ability to drive e-commerce.

Carolina Rustica is in the process of upgrading its e-commerce platform to be more Web 2.0-friendly and will dedicate more store and warehouse space to accommodate online merchandise. “This new platform will give us a nice bump in sales around the holidays,” Sexton says. “If I'm still breathing by the end [of the launch], we're going to look at adding a store in Raleigh. The bricks-and-mortar and the website work hand-in-hand.”

Ads add up
Carolina Rustica's search ads consist of 25 characters below a quick-hitting headline. The company's creativity is limited by the number of characters within the AdWords console, “so you really have to push yourself to say something that's different than your competitors and get your message across,” Sexton says. “If you look at the number of characters or words on the AdWords advertisement, they're all pretty much the same.”

It's easy to promote free shipping or low prices, he says, “but if you're advertising a brand name for lighting, [similar] advertisements are on the page. Trying to make that distinction is really one of the biggest challenges if it's a heavily competitive keyword.”

Sexton's is an old-school advertising mentality: The more times your brand is seen, the more sales are generated. Even if a potential customer fails to click on the ad, “they're still seeing CarolinaRustica.com – and that's the general awareness you want to build up over the long run,” he says.

Emily White, who oversees Google AdWords, says Carolina Rustica has done a nice job refining its campaigns and maintaining constant duration. The furniture store has also been able to track performance using Google Analytic and Check Out, she says.

“They have a full picture of what their customers are doing,” White says. “They've been able to do this without a [large] marketing department.”
Small to mid-size businesses are the bread-and-butter of Google's AdWords multibillion-dollar business, White says, adding that most of the new adopters of AdWords are bricks-and-mortar stores using the web to complement in-store sales.

Some stores are creating separate phone numbers specifically to track off-line sales generated through AdWords. Others are running special promotions through their online ad, offering coupons redeemable online and in-store.

Carolina Rustica also is using AdWords to target local markets. In fact, Sexton has stopped running print and radio ads “for the time being and we're just putting our money into Google Local Search and targeting consumers within a 200-mile radius.”

AdWords also allows Sexton to see tracking statistics in real time and lets him make changes to a campaign based on previous experience. Those changes go live as soon as he clicks “submit.”

Although Google says it loses $1 billion a year to fraudulent clicks, AdWords continues to thrive; quarterly revenues consistently reach or exceed $2 billion. Meanwhile, Google is enhancing its offerings. In September it launched Google Gadget Ads, a new interactive ad format that is currently in an expanded beta with a select group of AdWords advertisers worldwide.

Interactive gadgets
Gadget ads – non-traditional ad units with interactive, rich media capabilities – enable advertisers to target audiences in a flexible and timely manner via regular updates within the ad unit, but also allow users to engage with ad content in a way static ads haven't facilitated in the past.

According to a company press release, gadget ads can incorporate real-time data feeds, images, video and much more in a single creative unit and can be developed using Flash, HTML or a combination of both. Designed to act more like content than a typical ad, gadget ads run on the Google content network, competing for placement alongside text, image and video ads.

They support both cost-per-click and cost-per-impression pricing models, and offer a variety of contextual, site, geographic and demographic targeting options to ensure the ads reach relevant users with precision and scale.

The new advertising format “provides advertisers and agencies worldwide with an imaginative, dynamic way to interact with consumers,” says Susan Wojcicki, Google's vice president of product management.

Business owners can also add radio and television to their AdWords campaign. Google is currently testing a program that runs targeted radio and television spots; earlier this year, it signed multi-year agreements with Clear Channel Radio and EchoStar Communications.

The Clear Channel deal enables Google to sell a guaranteed portion of 30-second advertising inventory available on more than 675 radio stations. With EchoStar, Google will have access to a portion of DISH Network's advertising inventory that spans across all channels and dayparts.

Still, Sexton says he's sticking with what has worked for him: simple keywords. Over the last five years, his comparable-store sales have increased at an annual rate of 15 percent, and Sexton believes the prime days have yet to come.

“I want to reach that nirvana of true multi-channel marketing, where we've got retail stores – four or five in the Southeast region – working in conjunction with a catalog” and e-commerce,” he says.


Business Today logo

Carolina Rustica's growth would make any retailer google-eyed

By Dave Yochum

When Richard Sexton turned to Google to help market Carolina Rustica on a national basis, his business took off. Between 2005 and 2006 the home furnishings retailer grew 50 percent.

He has registered literally thousands of key words with Google, so that when a shopper Googles the phrase "freestanding toilet paper holder," the Concord-based company's web site pops up at the top of the results or within the top five.

Indeed, Sexton spends up to 10 percent of revenue per year on marketing, virtually all of it with Google. Revenue last year: $3.6 million, with $4 million projected for this year.

A graduate of Tufts with an MBA from Northwestern, Sexton is an unlikely entrepreneur. He jumped into a job with a chemical company in Massachusetts right after MBA school. He never pictured himself owning a small business, but three years of corporate behavior was all he could take. "The traveling, the meetings, the kinds of never seeing the result of your efforts, because of everything being rolled up into some corporate policy was too much," says Sexton, who is now 44.

So he quit his job and persuaded his wife, Cheryl, a medical student, to take a year off and to travel. And so they did, to Thailand, Nepal, India, Indonesia and Australia.

They were at a Tibetan refugee camp when Richard fell in love with sweaters, of all things. Thick and heavy, he had some shipped to Massachusetts. Upon their return, he sold them from the back of a "beat-up, old station wagon." Business wasn't so good. "If you just moved in them you'd sweat, they were so heavy," he laughs.

The Sextons decided to move to the Concord area where Cheryl was starting a residency at the old Cabarrus Memorial Hospital. Richard, meanwhile, opened the Himal Home Gallery on King's Drive in Charlotte where he sold items he imported from Nepal. When the lease came up, he decided to move the business closer to home, in Concord.

Business was good, but then seven years ago he decided to launch Carolina Rustica, a new name that reflected his broader aspirations. When some retail space opened up near Concord Mills at a rate considerably below market, he took it and launched carolinarustica.com.

With internet business soaring, he bought a warehouse off Highway 601; it's now stocked to the gills, with a call center to boot. In fact, Carolina Rustica will move into 4,000 square feet of space in the Gibson Mill on Cabarrus Avenue in old Concord early next year. The mill is being restored and rehabbed by Jock Liles, a building contractor who is the son of former Mayor George Liles of Concord. Sexton likes the fact that there will be exposed brick walls and wooden beams overhead. He's upfitting the place at a cost well into the six figures.

Is growth always good? "It puts a lot of stress on the organization. We only have 12 employees, including myself, so $4 million is a big number for 12 employees. We are busy and always trying to staff at the right number of people," he says.

Biggest challenge: "By far and away, hiring the right people. Service is intense, professionalism and the ability to multi-task is essential. We're hiring college graduates now. In the early days we used to hire warm bodies."

Humor vs. professionalism: Sexton is an incredibly funny, quip-witted guy. "I like a relaxed environment, and I am by nature a joker, but I don't carry that into the work environment. As much as I'd like to wear bunny ears, I don't."

Market niche: High end home furnishings, many of them metal, many of them custom fabricated, including chandeliers, dining chairs, baker's racks and even gazebos.

Next up: A new line of metal items that Richard himself designs. He is looking at expanding from kitchen and home accents into garden accoutrement. "The really, really fun part is coming up with designs that people want and really like," Sexton says.

Best advice for marketing via Google and key word searches: "The more generic your key word, the less satisfactory the result you're going to get. Be specific, have enough of them to make a difference."


Ecommerce Guide logo

Savvy Site Search Specs
By Vangie Beal
March 5, 2007

For the small online retail shop, a sharp product search is crucial to a successful shopping experience, but incorporating this feature can be overwhelming and expensive. Nonetheless, most businesses can't afford to keep serving up failed search results. Industry analysts say that if a desirable match is not returned on a query, roughly 75 percent of shoppers will look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, failed searches are quite common. The incorrect spelling of a product name or brand or the use of multiple words in a query that doesn't support phrases can trigger a misfire, but it doesn't end there. Sometimes, valid results are produced, but they don't correspond to what the shopper has in mind.

Often, this is because many e-tailers set up their storefront using basic hosting and e-commerce packages, and while they work, they don't necessarily have the search features needed to compete in online business. Visit any big-box retailer online and you'll find extensive search engines that offer loads of features, such as special product recommendations, image displays, similar results, direct add-to-cart functionality, and more. Visit a small e-tailer and you may very well conduct a search and find a single result page with one or two items, or worse, "no match."

The Basics of Site Search
E-commerce site searches should perform like a good floor sales associate by finding the exact products a customer is looking for, or a similar item, highlight sale items and cross-promote and up-sell products. To do this, your search should accept multiple word queries, find products based on variations of keywords as well as phrases, allow customers to shop by specific product, brand name or even a manufacturer part number. Efficient e-commerce searches also allow customers to shop within a specified price range and see images of the products, show stock availability and add the product directly to a cart from the search results page.

Consider Outsourcing
Because so much is involved in site-specific search, even the "big guys" outsource the task, but managed search is an attractive option for any online businesses big or small. Outsourcing your site's search means the traffic, and corresponding hardware requirements, is off-set to a third party, so you can select and choose the features and functions you want. Best of all, perhaps, you don't have to know a single thing about the technology, how to edit or add options and so on.

A Case Study in Conversions
Richard Sexton, President of Carolina Rustica is no stranger to the tasks of managing an e-commerce business. After running his retail furniture business successfully for five years in Charlotte, NC, the company in 1996 went online with the Himal Home Gallery , now a Yahoo Store, featuring one-of-a-kind rustic and provincial home furnishings. Seeing a big demand online for quality wrought-iron furniture, the company expanded its online operations to Carolina Rustica, now its main online retail store. The Himal Home Galley offered a basic product search that was a part of their e-commerce software package. They noticed that just a single incorrect character typed into the search box resulted in failed searches.

In December of 2005, the company decided that something needed to be done about the search feature on their Web site. This small business, handled by a staff of 12, was doing almost 95 percent of their business online. For Richard Sexton the time had come to invest in a good e-commerce site search.

In using the SLI Systems "Learning Search" solution the first benefit was realized when the search function was offloaded to a third-party server, allowing the Carolina Rustica Web site to perform well and not be slowed down by excessive user queries, a frequent problem before the change. In addition, Learning Search continually "learns" from past site search activity by tracking visitors' aggregate search queries and click-throughs. If, for example, 10 shoppers who enter the same search query select the same product on a search results page, that result would then be shown at the top of the search results, helping to ensure customers find what they want on the first page of results. It also automatically promotes similar or top-selling products and sale items, and offers dynamic banners to aid in up-sell or cross-selling. Another benefit is that the learning search integrates cart buttons and product selections directly from search results pages.

The Cost of Managed E-Commerce Searching
For the most part, Web shop owners can use common sense when deciding whether or not to upgrade their site search. SLI Systems' CEO Shaun Ryan says that simply by using the search function yourself you can see how well or poorly it's performing. Other red flags: when your customer support staff starts fielding questions and complaints about the search, and fielding product-related e-mails or calls for questions that should be answered by using the site's search.

So, just how much does outsourced search cost? Well, if you're looking for something like the search platform used by CarolinaRustica.com, Ryan says that the customizable Learning Search service starts at $800 per month and fees are charged based on the number of queries served. The company offers a fully-functional 30-day trial (including all reporting) in which the search software is customized for your business so you can see the advantages and conversions for yourself before investing.

A Worthwhile Investment
Obviously managed e-commerce search is not something that can fit into every small businesses' budget, but you should also consider the costs associated for doing your own, which include your current IT expenses (with a managed service this is included), the hardware and bandwidth costs to run your own searching and whether or not your getting a lot of conversions. In the past six months, Carolina Rustica's sales increased by about 30 percent, which Sexton attributes partly to the new site search they've incorporated.

Sexton, who has been very successful in his online retail venture, says that today small businesses are facing fierce competition from big-box stores online. His advice for staying in the game: Keep a tight focus, remember who your customers are and find a niche you can serve well. He says a good site search is an expensive investment, but if you plan on growing your online business, it's worth addressing.

"Small businesses need to look at site search as an important investment for their e-commerce business. It is a long term decision but the payback comes in the form conversions, which is something you'll notice," said Sexton. "Another big benefit of using managed search is that I spend less time focusing on the site's navigation and search and more time focusing on what I should be doing: growing and expanding the business." Vangie Beal is a frequent contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com. She is also the managing editor of Webopedia.


NFIB Guide to eCommerce

Richard Sexton of Carolina Rustica speaks on PPC campaigns

February/March 2007
To the right is a quote from Richard Sexton of Carolina Rustica. Our pay-per click costs have tripled over the last year. New sites are coming in all the time and just throwing money at Google and Yahoo! to keep their No. 1 spot. It has definitely hurt our margins trying to compete, and these sites come and go. So now we really concentrate on striking a balance between organic search and pay-per-click, eliminating any redundant pay-per-click listings.

NFIB Article Snapshot

 


Furniture Today logo

Hughes joins Carolina Rustica, Was with Charleston Forge 18 years

Furniture Today, 1/23/2007

CONCORD , N.C - Home furnishings retailer Carolina Rustica has named industry veteran Keila Hughes as vice president of operations, a new position.

Hughes comes to the company from casual dining and metal beds manufacturer Charleston Forge , where she worked for the past 18 years, most recently as vice president of sales.

Carolina Rustica sells a high-end line of furniture, accents, lighting and gourmet kitchen accessories. Its store, warehouse and call center are in Concord, N.C.

Hughes reports to company President and CEO Richard Sexton. The company said her mission will be to help the company better serve its customers by streamlining customer service operations as well as warehousing and shipping functions. She also will develop relationships with suppliers as well as area builders and designers.


Home Furnishings Business logo

Carolina Rustica Inc, a multi-channel retailer of home furnishings, lighting and gourmet kitchen accessories, has named Keila Hughes to the newly-created post of vice president of operations.

In this position, Hughes will be responsible for helping the company better serve its growing customer base nationwide by streamlining operations in customer service and all warehousing and shipping functions. Additionally, she will be responsible for developing customer relationships with local builders and designers as well as new suppliers to Carolina Rustica.

Prior to joining Carolina Rustica, Hughes was vice-president of sales at Charleston Forge, where she oversaw dealer relationships, marketing, and customer service. She was with Charleston Forge for 18 years and brings a wealth of furniture industry experience to her new position.


Practical eCommerce logo Richard Sexton in Carolina Rustica warehouse

Richard Sexton has parlayed his 10 years of brick-and-mortar success into a dynamic multichannel sales business with Carolina Rustica. With a combination of brick-and-mortar and online sales, Carolina Rustica expects to generate about $3.5 million in 2007, a 30 percent increase from the previous year. Approximately 15 percent of his total sales come from his brickand- mortar stores, and 85 percent come from his online sales channels. Sexton is looking at adding additional brick-and-mortar locations, but continues to take a conservative approach to company growth.

Why was Carolina Rustica started?
I started with a large brick-and-mortar store called Himal Home Gallery in Charlotte in 1996. It was a fairly traditional furniture store that I also supplemented with imports from Asia and a local art gallery. That was at the very beginning of ecommerce. We went online in 1998 and put some of our best-selling products, like iron beds, online and it really took off. We launched our website and it grew to the point where we needed an updated site with a dedicated staff. In 2000, I launched Carolina Rustica, and we have been growing ever since. Brick-and-mortar by itself is always a challenging environment, and we just followed that lead as Internet sales started to increase and evolved into Carolina Rustica. It really has been one step at a time, very sequential, very controlled in terms of how we grow and how we build the business. We started with basically one supplier and now have over 60 suppliers with 12,000 SKUs online. We have a warehouse, call center and retail store with a full-time staff of 10.

Do you sell products through other channels or only through your website?
We sell through our own site, our retail store, Amazon, Shop.com and Google Base. It's been very interesting watching the percentages changes. We do about 15 percent of our sales through our brick-and-mortar and 85 percent through Internet-based channels. Interestingly, Amazon has really started to increase as a percentage; it's perhaps 15 percent of Internet sales. We also sell through Shop.com, and that's been increasing as well. We plan on selling through other channels as they come available. It's interesting to see how that mix is evolving as certain players are gaining in strength.

How do you manage all the orders and paperwork from the various sales through all these sales channels?
That is a huge, huge challenge. We use a product called Order Manager from Stone Edge which ties into the back end of our proprietary shopping cart as well as Amazon and Shop.com. It can also bring in orders from other channels as well. It's a very interesting product, and they are constantly upgrading it. It's not really expensive for what you can get out of it. First and foremost, we are totally focused on customer service, and what Order Manager lets us do is consolidate orders from whatever channels we chose to sell through and treat each order the same on the back end of our system. Prior to that, every Amazon order was an exception outside of our system. Order Manager helps us continue to grow without hiring a huge amount of additional people.

How do you market your store?
Marketing is done primarily through a balance of organic search and pay-per-click, supplemented by email newsletters and print ads for our local store.

What challenges have you faced launching your business and how have you addressed those?
Our pay-per-click costs have tripled over the last year. New sites are coming in all the time and just throwing money at Google and Yahoo! to keep their No. 1 spot. It has definitely hurt our margins trying to compete, and these sites come and go. So now we really concentrate on striking a balance between organic search and pay-per-click, eliminating any redundant payper- click listings.

How do you find distinctive products to sell?
We have been in brick-and-mortar retail for over 10 years, so we find our products at the major buyers' markets such as Dallas, Atlanta, etc. We also design and manufacture some of our own products, which are imported. We inventory as much as we can in our warehouse for quick turnaround. Our instant gratification items, such as towel bars, we keep in inventory. For the more sophisticated items that might have several options, we have to order them as the order comes in. We'll either have them shipped to the warehouse or drop shipped. We prefer to have them sent to the warehouse to ensure quality control before the customer gets the product.

What research did you do prior to launching your site?
I have been doing Internet marketing for about nine years now, and everything I've learned has been from reading newsletters, visiting other sites and correcting my own numerous mistakes.

Any particular technology struggles in the early days you can share that can serve as an inspiration to young companies building a business today?
It's a very different game now with lots of money pouring into the search engines. Keep your site basic, informative and simple to navigate. Organic search is still the best deal out there, no matter how much time it consumes. Also, you can't outsmart the search engines. You will just get into trouble if you try.

How did you decide on using your current shopping cart?
We started with a shopping cart that was very crude. I don't remember the vendor, but it was basically a buy me now button that you'd put on (the site). It was OK for our business because our business wasn't that sophisticated. But now, with more than 60 vendors and well over 12,000 SKUs ... it's become more complicated. We have never really been focused on a particular shopping-cart solution. Many companies try to offer all-in-one ERP solutions, but these solutions wind up compromising the front end, which defines the user experience. We currently use a highly-customized PHP cart which is great for how we want to display our products. That also presents some limitations to us as well. We've tacked on to the front end and back end, so it probably won't be sufficient as we continue to grow. As we get to 50,000 SKUs, we'll probably need some other solution as well.

Do you utilize any special software on your site to improve the shopping experience for customers?
We use SLI Systems' Learning Search and Site Champion. Learning Search takes your search results and prioritizes them in terms of popularity of click-throughs, gives corrected spellings or suggestions, gives different category suggestions for that products, etc. Site Champion indexes the search results and feeds them into Google so you can get increased traffic through pages that appear on Google and other search engines as well. More and more consumers are getting used to search options, and that's why site search is so important. All this happens on SLI's servers so it never compromises our site's performance.


Business Week logo

Postage: Some Package Deal
RedRoller trims shipping costs

By Rachael King

If you suspect you're paying too much in shipping costs, RedRoller offers a quick way to find out. The company's Web site allows you to compare shipping prices from a variety of carriers including FedEx, DHL, and the U.S. Postal Service. (Quotes from UPS are not yet available.)

William Van Wyck, founder and CEO of RedRoller, based in Norwalk, Ct., says his service can cut shipping costs by 25% to 50% on the items he ships after using RedRoller. It has traditionally been difficult to compare costs among carriers because of variables in a parcel's size and weight and the different options offered by each service.

Red Roller users who select a shipper get e-mail notification when packages are delivered, maps of drop-off locations, and integration with eBay. They can also print shipping labels on plain paper, schedule pickups, and import data from customer address books.

Richard Sexton, who owns Carolina Rustica, a 10-person, $2.5 million furniture, lighting, and home accents store in Concord, N.C., says he saves about 10% to 15% on the items he ships with RedRoller. When a customer recently complained that a $40 decorative toilet tissue holder was late, Sexton offered to ship it second-day delivery. UPS, his usual carrier, charged $28, but on RedRoller he saw that DHL charged only $8. Says Sexton: "Any tool like RedRoller that saves you any margin is a good thing."


Internet Retailer logo

New site search features help Carolina Rustica boost sales by 30%, it says

A new site search tool at Carolina Rustica, an online retailer of wrought iron furniture and other home furnishings, has helped to increase sales by 30% year-over-year during the past six months while also boosting traffic from natural web search, president Richard Sexton tells InternetRetailer.com.

The new site search has led to an exponential increase in the usability of our site in terms of navigation, getting relevant results, and cross-indexing, Sexton says. It provides a richer shopping experience and lets shoppers see the whole spectrum of products without being consigned to navigational categories.

Carolina Rustica's former site search tool, a basic tool included in its shopping cart software, was not very useful, Sexton says. But the new tool, from SLI Systems Inc., improves the site's search and navigation the more shoppers use it, by using data based on prior searches to serve up more pertinent results, he adds. It also is designed to recognized misspelled words used as search terms and it allows users to sort results.

The complete site search application incorporates SLI 's Learning Search, which uses an analytics engine to improve search results based on past activity, and Site Champion software, which is designed to improve rankings in natural web search by recording site search terms on a separate site indexed by web search engines.

Site Champion was really important in our decision to choose SLI, Sexton says. It's probably increased by 10-20% the traffic received through natural web search.

The 30% increase in sales, he adds, was also helped by ongoing in-house efforts to optimize the web site for natural search, increased spending on pay-per-click search, an expanded product line and increasing sales through Amazon.com and Shop.com. Carolina Rustica expects to do about $3.4 million in sales this year, up from $2.5 million last year, Sexton says.


eCommerce Guide logo eCommerce Guide logo


Find this article here

Savvy Search Boosts Sales
By Lena West
August 15, 2007

When it comes to e-commerce, sales rule the roost. But all too often customers don't find what they need and simply decide to look elsewhere before closing the deal. Dwindling conversions are an epidemic for online retailers but a few software companies are providing an antidote through intelligent e-commerce search.

Basic e-commerce search refers to the search functionality on an online retailer's Web site that is used to find a particular product. For example, if a search is conducted on a retailer's web site, a results page is delivered with links to products that match the search as closely as possible. Intelligent e-commerce search, however, is a bit different.

Intelligent e-commerce search software helps site owners understand what buyers are searching for but also delivers results that highlight the most popular products from previous searches. Providing relevant search results is critical; otherwise site owners risk losing a sale and a potential loyal customer. If the search results are relevant, the customer is more likely to make a purchase, thereby increasing sales and conversion rates.

Is Your Site Search Outdated?
In the not-so-distant past, it was enough for site owners to have a site map and simple keyword-based search. At best, search functionality would be built into the web site's infrastructure but, more often than not, it was provided by plug-ins offered by popular search engines.

If a customer needed to purchase a new kitchen appliance and they searched for "range," they were only shown items that had the word "range" in the product name or description. Products with words like "oven" or "stove" in the product name or description, although clearly relevant, were not shown — much to the detriment of online sales.

Sharp Searchers
Thankfully for retailers, there has been a sea change in the world of search and in the forefront is California-based SLI Systems. With their product, Learning Search, there is no software to install, the product is hosted on SLI's servers and works as well with sites that have a few hundred searches as it does with sites that have thousands. Customized development is included, the entire implementation process takes less than three weeks from start to finish and monthly fees are proportional to the traffic and searches performed on the site.

SLI's CEO, Dr. Shaun Ryan, says that most retailers are hooked after the 30-day trial. "We have various algorithms to determine whether clicks are recent or old," he says, "and we can also tell if a customer goes back to the search page and clicks or searches for something that they really want and end up buying."

Learning Search automatically places popular items at the top of search results and the software can also be leveraged for search engine optimization. It continually "learns" from past site search activity by tracking visitors' aggregate search queries and click-throughs, and uses that data to deliver results based on popularity. Whether companies use their Web site to sell products, provide support or information, Learning Search returns the most relevant search results, which helps attract and retain customers and ultimately increases sales.

Giving SLI a run for their money is Toronto-based Nextopia. Sanjay Arora, company president, is quick to point out that his company competes on price with their solution, eComm|Search, with an investment of just $1,000 a year. Although, Nextopia began as a search-engine development company, in the past few years it recognized a niche in retail e-commerce search and decided to pursue it.

eComm Search is not a hosted solution, it is XML-based, and therefore hosted on the site owners' server. The software is a semi-intelligence-based search solution, meaning it relies on a mix of keywords, the strategic use of synonyms and sales data. Arora says their product works best with, "sites that are doing 200-50,000 searches per day."

The Proof is in the Results
Richard Sexton, president of Carolina Rustica, a multi-channel retailer of high-end furniture, lighting and home accents, says he looked at other intelligent search providers including Mercado and Celebros and while he has nothing bad to say about those companies, SLI did a better job of addressing what his company specifically needed.

"Our search results were generated by our shopping cart platform so we only got out what we put in," says Sexton. "Also, because search queries are memory intensive, if we had multiple customers searching on the site, it would slow the site down considerably. It was miserable and I knew something had to be done."

Reports are automatically e-mailed everyday in graphical format and Sexton can also see the best-selling products and top-visited URLs, features he finds especially useful.

Carolina Rustica's conversions increased by .25 to .50 percent, inquiry calls are up and they have doubled their customer service staff as a result. Sexton pegs the overall net sales increase by as much as 30 percent.

Ken Crites, marketing director for consumer direct channels at Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee, regrets that he didn't start using SLI's Learning Search sooner.

"We learned from industry studies that a customer who uses your site search is 2.7 times more likely to purchase. And, we want people to buy," said Crites. "The search that was included in Microsoft Commerce wasn't giving us the information we needed - and the search functionality wasn't intelligent search. We want to invest in the areas of our site that increase sales and site search is a no-brainer for increasing sales."

Green Mountain Coffee's overall site sales have increased about 60 percent over the past two years — most of which they attributable to implementing intelligent search — and online conversions have increased for the retailer as well.

Bottom Line
The key for proactive online retailers lies not in simply tacking-on search capability but rather in increasing the Web site's value to the customer by leveraging intelligent search. Or, in the words of Crites, "Bad search is a massive blown opportunity."

Lena L. West is the CEO of xynoMedia Technology. xynoMedia helps small businesses that are sick and tired of technology being a pain in the assets. She can be reached at xynoMedia.


Boston Phoenix logo

Behind the curtain

Location: Anderson Street, Beacon Hill.

Size: 350-square-foot studio.

Rent: $1100 per month.

Dwellers: Marissa LaVigne, 27, team leader in new accounts at J.P. Morgan; two cats, Cleo and Maui.

While Smith and DeFelice have the luxury of a spacious apartment a bit outside town, LaVigne sacrifices space to live in one of the most desirable (and exclusive) neighborhoods in Boston. Beacon Hill, with its narrow streets, stately brick houses, cobblestones, and gas street lamps, epitomizes Old Boston (not to mention old money). It’s a cozy quarter with an intimate olde-towne air, and for the most part, it’s a student-free zone. Charles Street, with its antique shops and restaurants, boutiques and bistros, exudes city romance. But what about the stereotype that all the pearl-necked and loafer-shod residents have more cash than they know what to do with? "No, no," jokes LaVigne, "people are just paying a lot for rent and eating Ramen all the time." (Take a moment and picture John Kerry, famed Beacon Hill resident, slurping up some noodles.)

"I love the location," says LaVigne. "I have a 10-minute walk to work. And everything is right here." Not only are restaurants and stores within shouting distance, but Cambridge is a quick shot across the river, and a short stroll leads you to the heart of downtown. "The only thing that’s far away," LaVigne explains, "is BC," where she’s pursuing her MBA. "It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get over to Chestnut Hill on the T."

Walking up the hill toward LaVigne’s place, you almost feel like you’ve left the city — and perhaps even the century — and arrived in some new realm of urban life and time. This is what you pay for, perhaps. Because you’re certainly not getting a lot of space. LaVigne’s studio, a single room on the second floor of an old brick townhouse, is small. You could stand in the doorway and spit to the opposite wall. But LaVigne has set it up in such a way that there are obvious delineations among kitchen, living room, and bedroom.

A tall, round table from Carolina Rustica, a North Carolina–based furniture store that specializes in wood and iron, sits by the kitchen nook, with two high chairs from Crate & Barrel. LaVigne’s bed is tucked around the corner, creating a private sleeping area. And she’s placed a large futon from Dream On Futon by her bed, which provides a physical divide between public and private space. A large trapezoidal bureau with woven-bamboo drawers from Pier 1 Imports holds her television, as well as vases she picked up on a trip to Russia and a pitcher she got in Italy.

"I’d say that’s my decorating strategy," says LaVigne. "Sort of international. I do a lot of traveling, and I like to bring things back from the places I go."

But does she ever feel cramped in the space? "To be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time here," she says. "It’d be nice to be able to have people over for dinner every once in a while," but she opts for location over space, and feels lucky to have found this studio. "A bunch of the studios I saw around here were just these rectangles with no division at all between the kitchen and the rest of the space. It just wasn’t comfortable to me. I like this place." And with one-bedroom apartments in Beacon Hill running around $1600 per month, hers is comparatively reasonable.

LaVigne wasn’t sure at first about living alone. She’d lived in Central Square, the symphony neighborhood, and another place in Beacon Hill, all with roommates. "It’s definitely nice to have people around to talk to, and I was nervous that I’d miss that," she says. "But it’s so much easier living alone."

Location: Josephine Avenue, Ball Square, Somerville.

Size: Four bedrooms; one study; kitchen; dining room; living room; front and back porches; one and a half bathrooms.

Rent: $2400 per month.

Dwellers: Naseem Khuri, 25, associate at Conflict Management Group at Harvard, executive coordinator of the American Diaspora Alliance, and aspiring singer-songwriter; John Stalker, 29, software engineer at the Broad Institute at MIT; Dennis McDaniels, 25, bartender at Sweetwater Café, aspiring philosopher; Nina Freeman, 24, aspiring actress, student at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater; Ron Hanlon, 25, site manager and tent assembler at A Tent for Rent.

Solo living has its perks. You don’t have to worry about anyone gulping your milk, pilfering your pudding, or snacking on your Tostitos. There’s no shower-schedule negotiation, and no need to play your Springsteen records at a respectful volume. Living alone, you’re the only one to blame if the dishes pile up in the sink or if the toilet doesn’t get cleaned.

But sharing a place with a bunch of people has its own set of advantages. Whether you move in with randoms or old friends, a certain level of intimacy (though not necessarily friendship) inevitably sprouts between roommates. House dynamics — however trying — can rival The Real World for entertainment. And there’s an elevated level of energy in a place shared by more than three people; each individual brings his or her own bustling life in and out of the place, which ends up a hodgepodge of personalities and furnishings, where the only stylistic rhyme or reason is that there isn’t any.

Such is the case on the second and third floors of an old Ball Square house occupied by five people. At the moment, the apartment’s electricity is being updated; gaping holes, exposed wires, and lots of dust and spackle define the space right now. Furniture has been piled into the center of rooms and covered with plastic sheets to make room for electricians and carpenters. Amidst the shambles, it’s apparent that this place is a jumble of hand-me-downs and cheap finds.

In the living room, a pair of televisions sit side by side. One of the two must be busted, right? "No," says Stalker, "they both work. It’s set up for the next couple months: Red Sox and Patriots."

"See this couch?" says Khuri, lifting up a tarp to reveal a well-worn sofa. "We grabbed this from my sister’s boyfriend’s ex-wife."

"And that big table over there," adds Stalker, pointing to the antique with thick carved legs, "was left over from the people who lived here before. Sometimes it feels like our whole place is hand-me-downs," he says. "Not the IKEA chair, though."

Khuri lifts a print of an old man with a banjo off the floor in the pantry. "My sisters gave me this. They got it at Building 19."

Both Stalker and Khuri cite the apartment’s location as one of its best features. "It’s a 10-minute walk to Davis Square and 13 minutes to Porter," says Stalker. "And you’ve got to remember Sound Bites," says Khuri, talking about why he loves the place he lives. "Best breakfast around." He also mentions the importance of porches and the joy of watching the cars on his street: an old Ford Mustang, a couple of vintage Cadillacs, and "a real old Duster. Our street is paved with class."

Inside, the whole apartment has a rickety summer-house feel to it; the stairs squeak, the banister wobbles, "and this wall just fell off the other day," says Stalker, pointing to a waist-high spot where the dry wall came off to reveal slats of wood underneath. "But that’s just because of the construction."


Five Star logo

Home & Living Home & Decor

Wrought iron furniture has become a popular choice for dining room sets to bedroom sets. The classic yet innovative look of the wrought iron design brings about a new trend that is sweeping the country.

At Carolina Rustica, you can find just about style of wrought iron furniture for all of the rooms in your home. From the Victorian style to a more feng shui Asian style, the wrought iron pieces found at Carolina Rustica can adapt to any lifestyle and look.

Carolina Rustica carries a complete line of smaller iron accent items like pot racks, towel bars, shelf brackets, and more. Carolina best in U.S. manufacturing. The site is so easy to navigate and visitors can shop by a specific manufacturer, by room, or even by specific style.

Five Star Bed

 

Five Star Dining Table

When you are shopping for furniture, you want to make sure that you're buying a top quality product that looks and feels as good as the pictures and descriptions. That's what Carolina Rustica prides themselves upon. They have formed partnerships with the premier manufacturers of wrought iron furniture such as Charleston Forge (specializing in bakers racks, seating and tables), Elliott's Designs (iron beds), and Hubbardton Forge (iron lighting). All three of these companies have 30 years of quality service to their name and grown in popularity due to their one of a kind hand-crafted iron furnishings.

For a modern look that also has touches of classic style solid wood, the Apex Coffee Table from Charleston Forge combines both the iron and wood for a contemporary masterpiece. If you are a fan of modern sculptures and decorative crystal vases, place those precious items on top of this sleek, eye-catcher for a clean, yet feng shui open spaced look.

Lamps have never looked more like works of art than with the Hubbardton Forge models. The Curved Taper Table Lamp has a rectangular base and a edgy, slender base with two beautifully curved tapers. For a contemporary bedroom that doesn't mind breaking the rules, this beauty shines with innovative excellence.

To complete a bedroom set, Elliott's Designs has striking sleigh beds that has a classic draped iron look with different emblems that decorate the head and foot boards. The Alexius Complete Bed has tall and bold wrought iron ends that really accentuate the beauty of any linens that adorn it. The curved ends of the head and foot boards give an added decadence to an already exquisite and luxurious design.

For the kitchen, Clearance items and gift certificates are available. Shop for all your housing needs in any easy to find, easy to navigate fashion. Sizing, color charts and detailed information are available online. For more information, visit www.carolinarustica.com.

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