Garrendenny Lane Interiors is a home business based in Carlow. Owned and run by Lorna Sixsmith, it offers a new and unique way to shop for your home. Rather than browsing in a standard shop in town, Lorna’s background in Interior Design allows her to provide a personal service where products can be displayed in a relaxed “home” environment. Not having a shop front in the town does mean that Lorna faces some additional challenges in promoting the business.
Interior design is a relatively new career choice for Lorna, having worked as a teacher, lecturer and head of department previously. Within those roles, she had to plan, deliver, work to targets, (persuade teenagers to complete coursework – easier said than done!), work to time scales and lead teams. While her current business has many of the same requirements – working from home means that these tasks are all done by her and at any hour of the day (or night).
The website was launched in late 2007 and the online shop (www.garrendennylane.ie) opened in August 2008. It stocks items such as kitchenware, bed linen, accessories for children, gifts, tea sets, clocks and candleholders. Such a wide variety of products can make search engine optimisation tricky on a small site.
Lorna first heard about blogging via an Enterprise Board training course and had her web developer integrate the blog into the website to get the most benefit from incoming links. Lorna freely admits that IT is not her strong point – but this does not hold her back from running a successful blog.
Some of the benefits of blogging provides for her business are:
- A better opportunity to reflect her expertise in the Interior Design business on a regular basis
- Information is available to customers 24 hours a day
- Customers have the opportunity to see some of the latest projects
- Constantly updated content keeps customers returning
- The blog and twitter account provides direct access to customers in a way that is difficult with static web pages
- It’s easy to post photos and descriptions of new products without producing a catalogue type interface
- Products can be promoted in a more personal way – without the bland description a traditional online shop may have
- The blog offers more opportunities for search engine optimisation
- Twitter allows customers comments and questions to be dealt with immediately
Lorna spends up to one and a half hours per week writing for her blog (circa three posts per week) and spends about the same time following other people’s blogs. This will be good news for business bloggers that are concerned blogging will take up too much time. Almost 32% of the respondents to the IIA Business Blogger Survey noted that they spent four to eight hours per week on their blogging activities. Lorna recently appeared on RTE’s Not Enough Hours program – where she claims the amount of blogging she does was exaggerated. The program did highlight the difficulty of balancing a work and home environment.
From the first day the blog articles were a mix of personal items, product reviews and tips. Lorna felt that this mix would be most suitable for her target customers because it enhances the personal service she provides. She feels the personal touch is very important for her business – both online and for direct contact. While the blog articles provide a behind the scenes view of her business she also provides an unusual twist on the theme. Customers can send photos of a room (via email or twitter) and get interior design advice by phone and email. The importance of seeing the products is not forgotten either as she sends samples via the post.
It’s not yet clear how useful Twitter will prove as a long term business tool for GarrenDenny Lane Interiors. While it provides direct contact to customers (especially home users outside of normal business hours) Lorna is aware how some users seem to be addicted to it. The majority of her customer contact is via the blog, email or phone calls. Currently she monitors activity on Twitter but only occasionally “tweets”. While also using Google Adwords, Online Directories, LinkedIn and Facebook to promote the business, Lorna says the blog is the focus of her activities. She does admit to being new to Twitter and has not ‘worked’ it properly yet.
One of the major issues for businesses is which metrics can they use to measure the success of a business blog. The IIA Business Blogger Survey found that the top ways that Irish businesses measure the success of their blogging activities include receiving positive feedback from customers and being referred to positively in other, more traditional, media. On both these counts Lorna has been successful with her blog but says she still has a lot more she wishes to achieve. Specifically she says she needs to write articles with a higher focus on potential search engine optimisation.
Her success rate so far has been excellent – she says 30-40% of her business has come via her blogging activities. Her blog has helped her gain customers(*) and make sales in the UK and in the US as well as Ireland. The exchange rate has meant that sales to the UK have drastically reduced but she says the export sales she gets are related to the blog. Lorna also guest writes for an American blog and sends a monthly newsletter that helps remind her customers of her online presence.
With house hunters and home decorators becoming increasingly Internet savvy it’s important for businesses like Garrendenny Lane to not just have an online presence but to be available for their customers and to give them direct access to real people. Lorna is leading the way in showing what a small business can achieve.
(*) How does Lorna know she is gaining customers via the Blog? At this point one might expect details of Google Analytics accounts, cookies and other tracking mechanisms but Lorna uses the most reliable method of all – She talks to her customers. When a customer contacts her with queries – she makes a point of asking them how they found her.