I repeatedly assess the value proposition in everything we do. At the end of the day value wins out.”
Robert Ellis is the owner of Massage Tables Now, an e-commerce company that sells massage equipment and supplies for massage therapists. Massage Tables Now offers a wide variety of some of the top brands including Oakworks, Stronglite, and Earthlite massage tables.
Robert has been a small business entrepreneur for over 30 years. He previously ran a finance company and decided to sell his business because he wanted a new challenge and saw the shift in consumer behavior towards buying products online. Unlike his other past ventures, Robert acquired Massage Tables Now. He knew the massage industry was growing and wanted to have the opportunity to utilize his business background to improve an existing business that had lots of potential.
Where did the idea for Massage Tables Now come from?
Almost 3 years I founded another e-commerce business that sells authentic cuckoo clocks called Bavarian Clockworks. After gaining experience and success with my first company I decided to expand into other industries and build a portfolio of niche e-commerce businesses. Massage is a growing market that caught my attention with lots of potential upside. I believe there is a significant opportunity for early players to take advantage.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
During a typical day I am managing our order requests and making sure the correct product is shipped to each customer on time. I also oversee our customer service efforts. Because many of our products have high price points and may not be something bought on a consistent basis, our clients typically have a lot of questions they ask over the phone or via email. We take a great deal of pride in providing personal attention to each of our customers. In addition, I also am involved the redesign of our website and oversee supplier relationships.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am very open and honest with our customers, suppliers, employees, and service providers. I believe that transparency has helped me establish beneficial partnerships that have allowed me to execute on my ideas. No idea is brought to life by a single person. Honesty and sincerity always goes a long way in attracting the right people.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In the future I believe e-commerce platforms will have more of a streamlined checkout process. Currently, checking out is one of the slowest parts of the customer journey. Shoppers need to enter their billing information and shipping address. In the near future we’ll likely see one-click checkout processes involving digital wallets and bitcoin. It’s a trend that’s already gaining momentum and I believe will soon be mainstream in e-commerce.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have a genuine interest in our products, business, and building our organization to be the best it can be. Because of that, I am in the habit of applying a set of criteria to every task that is seeking a spot on my schedule to that end. Only those tasks that are productive in getting us closer to our goals make the cut. This habit gives me confidence in knowing that my day is on the path to productivity before I get started.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If you have an idea, don’t wait to get started. Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction. There are so many things that come up when you start a business that you could never have planned for. You might as well get started and adjust on the go.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
While not alway popular, I believe that product graphics on an ecommerce website are far more important that most people believe. As e-commerce entrepreneurs, we are often led to believe that while images are necessary, it’s the writing that is at the core of a site’s success. Writing is very important and should be taken seriously, but when you are selling a tangible product in an intangible environment, customers are forced to abandon the sense of touch and rely on sight and images to give them the confidence to buy and convert. I am at odds with some industry professionals about the importance of product images that are unique and tell a story. Fortunately, our customers respond very well to it and at the end of the day, it is their opinion that matters most.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I repeatedly assess the value proposition in everything we do. At the end of the day value wins out. When approached with ideas, services, or suggestions for change, I always ask for the value proposition. A good value will always support the bottom line and I recommend we look for one in everything we do. I also believe that value assessment is a great approach to making key business decisions.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
We invest a lot in PPC and SEO marketing. As an ecommerce business, it’s imperative customers can find you online. It doesn’t matter how great your concept or products are if no one knows you exist. We have been able to drive traffic to our website by optimizing our product and category pages for specific keywords.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I owned a small business a few years ago that I was forced to close as it did not produce the revenue and profit I was expecting. By the time we figured out what needed to be done it no longer made sense to continue investing in it. I took a lot of time dissecting what went wrong and how I could apply lessons learned going forward. I got back up, dusted myself off, and started again, guided with those lessons from the past. They have served me well and business is better than ever.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have noticed that with most non-disposable physical products there is a secondary market and depending on the first market’s size some are significant. Most of those secondary markets are inefficient. I believe there is a solid demand for the creation of niche specific clearinghouses allowing people to easily buy and sell pre-owned products from within that niche. It would likely be a fee based model not requiring inventory either.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
It was for my daughter’s birthday party. You can’t put a price on great memories and it’s important to me to take enough time away from my daily work schedule to be with family.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I use the Creative Cloud suite by Adobe. It allows me to quickly produce graphics in any format imaginable to support our efforts online, keep our brand consistent, and ads current.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek. It is a fantastic resource for teaching you how to reach deep within yourself and harness the power of inspiration and innovation. The book teaches that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way — and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does.
What is your favorite quote?
“The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can get for a dollar, is bound to succeed.” – Henry Ford
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.