When retail perfume sales plummeted in the early 2000s, Sonny Ahuja knew he had to make some changes to his business. At the time, Ahuja owned stores in most of the major shopping malls in Wisconsin, and online sites like Amazon and eBay had begun offering lower prices than specialty and department stores. “We tried matching their prices, but we couldn’t because our overhead was so much higher,” he recalls.
Rather than fight the online trend, Ahuja joined in. “I decided to go where our customers were and moved everything online.” He launched GrandPerfumes.com. The website was great, he says, but its traffic not so much. “I had to get visitors on the site, so I learned SEO and brought the site to page one of a search from more than 1,000 keywords.” But that still wasn’t enough to drive sales.
Next Ahuja joined Twitter and Facebook, and got his wife, Ami, to pitch in. Together they began tweeting about fun things. “The idea was to get people interested in us, and then they’d like our website.”
He started a Saturday morning “show” on Twitter. For two hours, both he and Ami tweeted funny quotes and links (using the hashtag #funsat), occasionally noting that his efforts were sponsored by GrandPerfumes.com. Soon potential customers were joining in from around the world. They not only liked the show, they clicked through to the perfume site, too. “We started getting extra sales through Twitter from places like New Zealand, Australia, India, and even parts of South America.”
Ahuja still runs the Saturday program whenever he can and has built up a following of nearly 52,000 people. His reputation has increased traffic and boosted sales. Shifting the business online has gone so well that in July 2011 Ahuja closed down his last physical retail store.
Ahuja, who was recently elected to serve as the director for the Better Business Bureau board in Wisconsin, now coaches other entrepreneurs in using social media and SEO. He shares these tips for growing a business online with Twitter:
- Invest time. During the week, Ahuja and his wife scour the web for jokes to include in their two-hour show, giving credit when appropriate and pointing followers to links of funny videos.
- Be personal. Although Ahuja could set up and automate the show, he prefers to tweet it live. “I go back and forth with people; we get a lot of feedback, and I can respond to it.”
- Offer a Q and A. You don’t have to hold a funny show to attract followers. Instead, “hold a question and answer session once a week for an hour,” Ahuja suggests. Take questions from consumers related to your field and answer them. If you do this consistently, you’ll soon be seen as an expert in your industry.
- Provide service. Whether its humor, dentistry, or plumbing, offer people a real service and they’ll stay with you.