5 With… Warren Royal, Owner – Bobbleheads.com
Warren Royal has been in the online world for a while. He started a small BBS (Bulletin Board System) in 1988, and it grew over the years to be one of the most popular online systems in the country in 1993. At that time, Warren serviced subscribers from all over the world, and registered his first domain, so that he could expand his mail services to include internet mail. (He still has that domain today).
Later, as the internet became more popular, BBSs lost favor, and Warren converted his BBS to an Internet Service Provider, and offered dialup and website design services to his clients. Warren became very involved in domain acquisition in 1998 to assist clients with some new products and services he offered, and he still has most of those domains today.
Since that time, Warren has gone back and forth between entrepreneurial activities and corporate technology management. Warren earned his MBA degree at night, and for many years, he worked as an IT manager in the mortgage industry – and eventually became the CTO for a large mortgage company in Atlanta. At that time, he was commuting 2 1/2 to 3 hours each day to his office. In early 2007, the mortgage industry imploded, and his employer shut down literally overnight. Warren decided to go back into business for himself again, and to focus on internet and domain development. And since then, that’s what he’s been doing.
In the meantime, Warren also published a pictorial history book about his hometown in South Georgia, and has launched Shreveport.com and a number of other smaller GEO websites. One of his projects, Bobbleheads.com, has also been keeping him busy, and the site has become one of the most popular bobble head doll websites.
EJS: 1) When you were thinking about buying Bobbleheads.com, did you already have a plan for the website or did you come up with the plan after owning the name?
WR: When I saw the domain Bobbleheads.com at auction, I knew instantly that I had to have it. It was an extremely active auction, but I was determined to get it. It was the type of domain that you could develop, or park, and do very well with it either way. I didn’t know a single thing about the bobblehead business, and wasn’t exactly sure what I would do with it, but I knew it was the type of name that you could build a business around. Then, the next month, the singular version (Bobblehead.com) came up for auction, too – and I was also the successful bidder of that one. Once I bought the two names, and spent some time researching the industry, I decided that there was a great market opportunity, and to move forward and to develop a full business plan around the names.
EJS: 2) Are you finding it challenging to run a business like Bobbleheads.com while managing other websites such as Shreveport.com?
WR: Bobbleheads.com definitely keeps me busy, and it is a challenge. I’ve completely bootstrapped it, and am trying very hard to keep it a “one-man-operation”, but it’s starting to outgrow me. It is my first real internet business that is based upon actual products and services rather than being completely “virtual”. This is a significant difference from many websites. In the real world of product sales, you have to purchase and store inventory, deal with credit card processing and sales taxes, keep shipping tape and cardboard boxes on hand, and provide superior customer service. It’s a real business. Currently, we stock about 210 different products and over 3300 individual pieces- and we’ve only been in business for 5 months! It is still manageable, but if it continues to grow I will need to add staff.
EJS: 3) What was the process you undertook to develop the site, find products, and build an ecommerce website?
WR: Due to my extensive web development background, and my exposure to web technologies and tools, I decided to undertake the project myself. I found some great third-party technologies that gave me almost everything that I need, and was able to build the core site myself in less than a week. Setting up the interfaces with the credit card and shipping companies was a little tricky, but the software that I chose does a really good job of dealing with these complexities. As far as the products, I had to teach myself everything that I could about the industry. I called every vendor I could find, and fortunately they were very helpful and brought me up to speed quickly as their partner.
EJS: 4) Could you have had the same success with a name like eBobbleheads.com or CoolBobbleheads.com?
WR: No way. One obvious benefit is the substantial type-in traffic that I receive as a result of having this name. From the moment I opened the site, I had visitors who were looking for bobbleheads and were ready to buy. That was with zero marketing or advertising. But the greater benefit has been the instant credibility that I have been able to achieve with important industry contacts, such as vendors, and large corporate customers. When you own the name, you own the brand – and you are viewed as the authoritative resource for your category. Additionally, my site is now #1 on Google for the search term “bobbleheads”, after only being up 5 months. I’m not sure if that would have happened if my domain was something different.
EJS: 5) What are your goals for your domain/development business, and how does Bobbleheads.com fit in to that plan?
WR: Bobbleheads.com is doing very well. It has been profitable since the first month, and my monthly sales have grown almost 10-fold since June. The election has had a huge impact – we’ve sold over 500 election-related pieces alone. And we haven’t even hit the holiday season yet – I’ve heard from industry partners that we should expect sales to explode in November and December. Once I get through this busy season, I’ll probably hire a fulfillment company to take over the physical aspects of the business, which will allow me to scale it to a much larger size.
Long term, I plan to create several more businesses like this one, where I can bootstrap them and build them into substantial businesses. I also see Shreveport.com and my other Geos as being significant opportunities.
EJS 6) How did the Rick Schwartz bobblehead come about?
WR: I got the idea during the TRAFFIC conference in Orlando earlier this year, shortly after I had acquired the name. An artist had just drawn a great caricature of Rick, and I thought it would be great fun to do a custom bobblehead of him and surprise everyone at the NY Traffic show. I approached Rick, and he said “Sure!”. He is a great sport, and thought it would be fun. So we decided to move ahead with it.
I contracted with a partner who has offices in Mexico and China, and they had an artist sculpt his image in clay. We went through several versions, and Rick approved each one along the way, before they finally “fired” the clay figure and created a mold. They were then produced in China and hand-painted, and then we shipped 250 of them to New York just in time for the show. They were a huge success! I supplied the 250 TRAFFIC giveaways as a promotion, and am offering the rest at Bobbleheads.com.
We are going to do more; we are considering other candidates for the next
promotion. Stay tuned!