When you log onto Stylin Online's web site you may think you've accidentally surfed onto Fandango, MovieFone, or some other Hot Summer Movie/TV ticket site. All you see are high-powered, eye-catching, fast-cutting graphics for Iron Man 3 ('Style Like Tony Stark With the Newest Tees'), Star Trek Into Darkness ('Boldly Go Out With Intergalactic Gear Worthy of Starfleet'), Man of Steel and Game Of Thrones.
But appearances can be deceiving.
Cufflinks, Hoodies, Baby Tees
Click down a few levels and you'll find yourself browsing through pop culture clothing and gear celebrating comics, TV, movies, sci-fi, horror, anime, cartoons, Disney, video games and music—caps, hats, necklaces, shirts, t-shirts, cufflinks, hoodies, baby tees and more.
Stylin Online is a huge pop culture clothing store with thousands of exclusive t-shirts, caps and hard-to-find novelty tees featuring logos and graphics from the hippest movies, comic books, anime and television shows. James Stylin, President - CEO of Stylin Online, declares the site to be "quite simply the largest pop culture clothing super store on the web." He sells around 500 items every day.
Looking at the choices on Stylin's site, that claim is easy to believe. Green Lantern? Check. Breaking Bad? Got it. Godzilla? You bet! Harry Potter? Big Trouble In Little China? Little Shop of Horrors? Abominable Dr. Phibes? Hellboy? Batgirl? Call of Duty? Wonder Woman? Check, check, check.
Not bad for a site that started out as a flea market stall in 1995.
Hey, Have You Got a Web Site?
"The flea market kiosk was quite successful," Stylin remembers, "at least insofar as it paid my way through college. I didn't make a lot of money, but I was working for myself and selling stuff I liked. As I got older I realized there were a lot of people who wanted to relive their youth through clothing that reminded them of the stuff they grew up on. So I turned to carrying a best-selection of all the gear I wanted when I was a kid. That has served me well."
In September, 2002, Stylin went live with his first web site. He designed it with a friend. "My retail business was actually very strong," he says. "I had started selling at conventions around the country, like ComiCon events, and everyone would ask me, 'Hey, have you got a web site?' So I listened to my customers…and it was the best thing I ever did."
Stylin started his online business with just a few Superman and Batman shirts—and no employees—but in a short time he had expanded into cartoons, TV, and movie-themed merchandise. He did everything himself: buying, packing, shipping, crating, putting stuff on the web site. He didn't hire his first employee until 2004. Before he knew it he'd outgrown two warehouses—and these days his staff fluctuates between eight and 13 people.
The Difference Between Success and Failure
He knew from the start that a compelling web site would make the difference between success and failure…but initially he had no idea what he wanted. "I didn't have the expertise to know what was right and what was wrong," he admits. "I just put stuff on the front page that I thought was cool. It wasn't until many years later that I started going to internet retailer conferences and learning what other people did, that I started to understand what I really wanted. Then I met Erik Yonge at one of the Yahoo! Summits (for Yahoo! Merchant Solutions customers) and hooked up with his design company, EY Studios. They took over all my design and layout decisions; they redesigned the site twice and guided me to the next level. I've been working with them for about four years, and Erik has become a good friend."
Yonge designs sites for quite a few successful ecommerce companies, and he brings a clear vision to Stylin Online that makes a big difference. He believes there are three critical elements to any successful ecommerce site design:
- One, the site has to communicate authority, like going to a store where the staff are experts in whatever products they're selling.
- Two, the site needs to utilize that authority by recommending products.
- Three, a good site retains customers after the sale. You want users to buy into the brand.
"I've been on the Yahoo! Store platform since the inception of Stylin Online in 2002," he says. "The biggest appeal at first was that it was easy to set up. But I chose not to leave Yahoo! because I've had such a great experience with Yahoo! Store Manager. For one thing it comes with a plethora of tools. There's Yahoo Web Analytics, the entire Shopping Cart system, they have a Coupon Manager that monitors the coupons you send out, and creates new ones depending on the time of the year. I love the Shopping Cart because it's solid, and you don't have to worry about your web site being hacked."
Choosing the Right Domain Name
Whether it was the platform or Yonge's flashy graphics (or both) something kicked in after the redesign. "In 2009, after the economy tanked, I took a substantial hit," Stylin says, "but now, after several redesigns, I'm surpassing the numbers from 2008. I credit a lot of that to EY. Their great design work makes my site look bigger and much more professional. More high-end."
In some ways, Stylin owes at least some of his success to choosing the right domain name. "Back when I started," he says, "all the Yahoo! stores had domain names like store.yahoo.com/stylinonline, or stylinonline.store.yahoo.net. Those were the domains that Yahoo gave you. It wasn't until 2006 that I realized I could switch it to stylinonline.com. And that was when Google and Microsoft and Yahoo! started to recognize Stylin Online as a brand authority and not just a store."
Marketing is a big deal for Stylin as well—but not magazine ads. He outsources pay-per-click marketing to a company that does a lot of Yahoo! stores, but his main focus is on relationship-building with other web sites so they'll direct more traffic to his site. An in-house Head-of-Marketing manages that process.
The company's biggest problem today is finding skilled top-level staff. As Stylin points out, he lives in a small town—Memphis, Michigan, about 100 miles north of Detroit—and while he's comfortable outsourcing development, design and marketing, he can't outsource hiring the right Chief of Operations, or the right Ecommerce Manager. "Over the last three months I've hired four new people, and I'm planning to train them to handle a lot of the day-to-day operations. Hopefully that will take enough off my plate so I can focus on bigger and more important things…like hiring an Ecommerce Manager. That could be a game-changer for me."
The Inner Geek
In the end, the most wonderful thing about the site is that it truly captures James Stylin's fundamental enthusiasm about all this goofy gear. "Picking something from StylinOnline.com," he laughs, "just goes to show you—and everybody else—that you still feel your inner geek."