Three years ago, Sam Hendren founded Tech Gone Wild, an online electronics store. He worked in electronics retail for years and loved it, but realized he wanted, as he says, “to say it was my own.” Customer service is the leverage point that sets Tech Gone Wild apart from the big e-commerce players. Hendren and his four other employees will personally call new and returning customers to thank them, and they’ll regularly bend their own return policies to make a customer happy. “I love being able to service people,” Hendren says, “to know they’re going to use their new product and enjoy it.”
Tell me about Tech Gone Wild. How are you different from your competition?
We’ve only been around for a few years. At first, we mainly sold accessories for electronics; iPads, computers, that kind of thing. We’re just starting to get into the electronics business. But our main focus is on accessories. We’re very price-competitive. So is our service. We try to be better than Best Buy and Amazon, and we do customer service very well.
How has your role changed since founding your company?
Now I manage it all. I have a say in everything that happens. We don’t do the shipping in-house anymore; we’re contracted with a warehouse in Oregon. We send our products to them, and they send the orders out. But I oversee everything. And we’ve got four extra guys here.
What’s your professional background?
I’ve been in the retail business for about six years now. I actually used to work at a small store here in Arizona. I was a salesman there. I like the work, and I wanted to do it on my own, to be able to say it’s my own.
What’s been the most difficult part of launching Tech Gone Wild?
Probably getting funds. Building and marketing these websites, it costs thousands of dollars, and you’ve got to be able to sell that much to pay for all these costs. So definitely, marketing and running the website is not cheap. That’s probably the biggest challenge. I mean, Amazon, they’re spending tens of thousands of dollars every day, just on marketing. We are not able to do that. So that’s the hardest part, getting ourselves out there.
Getting yourself out there is one step. How do you build (and cultivate) your brand’s trustworthiness?
Our customer service is high priority; from the feedback I’ve gotten from our customers, they’ve really liked that. They feel like we really care. You know, on some products—some items that are manufactured by HP, say—we can’t be price-competitive, because Amazon can purchase way more inventory and get lower prices. But our customers say they’ll pay extra to come with us because of the service we’ve given them before.
How do you build loyalty with your customers?
A month or two after ordering, we’ll personally give them a call and thank them. Sometimes we’ll give them $5 or $10 in store credit, just to keep them coming and keep it on a personal level. We generally have a 30-day return policy, but if somebody’s 45 days out, we might take the item back.
What about social media—do you use those platforms much?
Facebook is our biggest one, although we do have a Twitter account that’s just linked to our Facebook account. On Facebook, we do some things, like “The first person to Like this gets store credit.” Or we’ll post a random gift card code; things like that.
To someone in the early stages of launching a similar e-commerce business, what advice would you give?
I would say start off on eBay and Amazon before you buy your own site, to get a feel for how it works. Then launch a small DIY website yourself instead of investing thousands to get it professionally designed. You never known where it’s going to go.
How did you raise start-up capital?
We started with $500. We bought 100 iPad cases at $5 and sold it all on eBay, making $5 to $10 a case. All the money we got back from that, we put into buying more cases. We kept doing that until we had a nice pocket of cash, and then we moved into selling another product. We didn’t worry about marketing, and we didn’t have any overhead until our shipping got high enough. Then we got our first shipping agreement with FedEx, got discounted rates, and started in with different products. It grew from there.
Sounds like “start small and be patient.”
Yeah. We didn’t want to have to go to a bank and worry about loans.
How has outsourcing your warehouse and shipping worked for you?
It’s been nice. We don’t have to worry about customer service or shipping; now, it’s mainly just customer service. We’ve got a data feed that runs all our orders from our side automatically to the warehouse. They’ll process and ship the order, and we’ll bill directly on our FedEx number. It’s been working nicely. We offer a same-day shipping option, and we haven’t had any problems yet. It’s made our lives much easier.
What do you love most about your job?
I love being able to service people, to know that they’re going to use their new product and enjoy it. I especially love it when they come back and place a second order. It’s a very diverse working setting, a fun job to have, and I enjoy it very much.