Catching traffic in their Web

Good spin and a craftier Web strategy boost sales for a knitting-supplies retailer.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- Last summer Laura Zander hoped a Makeover would turn Jimmy Beans Wool, the Reno knitting-wool company that she owns with her husband, Doug, into a household name ("Weaving a Web Strategy," July/August 2007). It hasn't happened yet.

But Internet sales, which make up about 80% of Jimmy Beans' business, have doubled since last summer.

"We did more Web sales in the six months after the Makeover than in all of 2006," Laura says.

In 2007 total revenues hit about $2 million, after stalling at $1.2 million for each of the previous three years. While sales at the Zanders' retail shop are flat, they plan to keep it open, if only because it serves as a storeroom and staging area for shipments.

Laura heeded one consultant's advice and mastered the art of pitching knitting-related stories to magazine and newspaper editors. She scoured relevant periodicals to see what they looked for and to learn which editors to contact. Laura noted that October was breast cancer awareness month.

"By July, I created a red-scarf knitting kit and sent out press releases saying I'd donate $5 to cancer research for each one sold," she says. "Articles ran in October, and we sold hundreds of kits."

Such stories brought more visitors to Jimmy Beans' Web site and resulted in higher rankings for the firm in Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) and Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) searches. Doug Zander, who maintains the Web site, began noting the pages where visitors lingered longest. If a link isn't getting enough clicks, he replaces or tweaks it to improve the look and function of the page on which it appears.

To learn customers' preferences, Laura created a simple questionnaire for Web visitors. She found that they wanted more product variety. So each month, she adds new brands of wool and knitting gear.

Jimmy Beans chose not to expand into new lines such as sewing goods.

"We'd lose our focus," says Laura, who is keeping a closer eye on customer service instead. "We're careful to ship orders the next day and grow no faster than we can handle."

Next, Laura plans to produce 100 short knitting-instruction videos for YouTube. "We keep looking for ways to widen and engage our audience."  To top of page

More business makeovers:

Help wanted for HR firm: Fortune Small Business's makeover experts visit a human-resources consulting firm seeking a smarter growth strategy.

Business boot camp: FSB's makeover squad helps a shoemaking couple chart a growth plan.

A bakery on the rise: Two partners try to expand their food business without losing momentum.
Could your business use a makeover? In general, successful Makeover candidates are profitable small companies with at least $1 million in annual gross revenues. To submit your firm for consideration, e-mail the FSB makeover editor here. Please describe your business briefly, provide your most recent and projected revenues, and explain why you think your company would benefit from a Makeover.

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