Power Up Case Profile: Sucking Up e-Commerce Knowledge

After beginning his career in vacuum sales as a door-to-door salesman, Alec Nelson came to own and run his own Godfrey’s franchise store.

When it came time to move on, Nelson began his first foray as an online retail entrepreneur by selling parts on eBay alongside a vacuum repair business.

“Eventually it was the eBay shop that was really making the money,” says the Co-founder and CEO of Vacuumspot. “I was losing a fortune on wages in order to support the repairs business. It wasn’t long before I decided to just do the repairs myself and ramp up our online operations.”

Alec Nelson founded Vacuumspot with his wife, Kerry.
Alec Nelson founded Vacuumspot with his wife, Kerry.

While vacuums and vacuum parts are the focus of his career, Power Retail’s recent interview with Nelson reveals he has not only gleaned a lot of e-commerce knowledge along the way, his hard work is beginning to pay off in unexpected ways.

Vacuumspot’s international sales are on the rise, particularly in New Zealand. Not bad for an Aussie pureplay retailer.

How has you business expanded since the days of your eBay store?

After using eBay, I did some product research for starting a website. At first we hired a web developer, but the site he provided didn’t even have e-commerce capabilities. It was then that I found a simple, out-of-the-box shopping cart solution called Ashop. As soon as our Ashop webstore was launched, we started seeing more conversions.

Eventually we outgrew Ashop as sales increased, so I approached a large, Sydney-based web development firm to design a site for us. The project ran overtime, the budget began to blow out and we ended up twelve months later with an offering that was less functional than what we had with Ashop, but thousands of dollars more expensive.

How did you identify problems with the proprietary solution you came to use? How did you recover?

As we watched sales results slide huge percentages each month, I started to get phone calls from all the people we owed money to. They were almost as concerned as I was. It was at this point that I started scouring the web for all the e-commerce information I could find.

We decided to relaunch on Ashop once more in order to stop haemorrhaging sales, while in the meantime I reinvested in a Magento-based solution, which was to incorporate all the knowledge I had learned from the previous experiences.

Can you identify any specific problems that were occurring on the failing webstore that hadn’t been an issue when you were using Ashop?

A major problem with the proprietary solution we had developed for us was the site search we were recommended. This tool, called a product finder, was supposed to call up any products related to a certain product name or number. We found that this aspect of the website was simply not working.

When we relaunched on Ashop, we went back to the drawing board to try and create the simplest way for our customers to find products – and that hierarchy that we came up with has remained roughly unchanged since then.

What benefits of using an enterprise-level, open-source solution like Magento have you discovered?

Since launching on Magento, we have had the added benefit of being able to perform more sophisticated testing, with many more analytics available than anything else Vacuumspot has worked with previously. Every time we perform multivariate testing we’ve seen an increase in conversions. The last batch of test we ran included a total of 12 different possible landing pages that were served to an equal number of visitors to the site.

How did you begin selling to international consumers? Have there been any specific challenges involved with that?

Our first international sale was a customer in New York buying vacuum bags. It didn’t make any sense to me – I just didn’t expect it. Since then it has become an increasing focus of ours to sell internationally. New Zealand is really the only place we have a decent foothold in, aside from Australia, and even that has taken some work. Now, 10-20 percent of our sales are made in New Zealand.

In order to gain real traction in New Zealand, we decided to get into the local comparison shopping sites. The problem was, they wouldn’t allow us to get listed without a physical warehouse present in the country. Luckily, after a lot of phone calls and emails, I got onto some comparison shopping sites that would accept us on the proviso that we could demonstrate fast, reliable shipping.

Beyond that, we are currently in the process of optimising our webstore to be location-specific. This means the site has to be able to identify where the user is coming from so it can direct them to a version of our store that displays prices in their own currency, but also features content that is tailored for them also.

What other techniques have you found to be really boosting conversions via your webstore?

We’ve found our featured video content has been a real driver for the store’s success. Our YouTube channel has around 100,000 views on it, and I’m going to be honest – it’s not like the content is that interesting. I just film myself performing simple repairs in order to provide useful information about the products we sell, but it’s been getting a huge response.

I’m naturally very camera shy, but having bitten the bullet we now receive requests to demonstrate various parts and products all the time. It’s really very exciting.

Here’s an example of a product video from Vacuumspot, featuring Alec Nelson:

Seeking more information on how to get an online retail venture off to a flying start? See our complete A-Z guide, Power Up: The Online Retail Entrepreneur’s Guide.

2 thoughts on “Power Up Case Profile: Sucking Up e-Commerce Knowledge

    • vac guy
    • 19th August

    i believe that alec nelson has since past away in early 2014 and the business is being run by his wife.

    • roger davies
    • 22nd September

    If this is true am very sorry to hear Alec has passed away. I wanted to comment on his Dyson u-tube clips. I had to change the motor on mine and found his instructions so easy to follow, doubt wether I would have got it back together without his info. I now have a “brand new” Dyson thanks to him. What a sad loss to all of those who need expert help and are not experts. I wish his wife all the best in running the business.


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