Family mementos are an important part of passing memories and traditions from one generation to the next. For most, these cherished items include jewelry or photos – but for Long Island, New York resident Deborah Boyd, they’re pots and pans.
In fact, Boyd still uses some her grandmother’s cookware passed down to her by her mother. But these aren’t just any pots and pans, they are cast iron.
“My mother used cast iron constantly, and I learned to cook using those pans,” said Boyd.
There’s no childhood memory better than that of delicious cooking smells wafting from the kitchen. Boyd said her mother would often make her scrambled eggs for breakfast. And if she was lucky, she would make her favorite dish, “German meat patties,” for dinner. The meat patties weren’t anything complicated – just a combination of hamburger meat, onion, egg, bread crumbs, and spices. But they were scrumptious nonetheless.
Decades later, when Boyd’s parents were elderly, she and her husband moved in with them to help out. Boyd began doing most of the cooking using her grandmother’s cast iron.
“Some of the pieces are three generations old,” she said. “They’re still going strong. They just get better with age.”
Three years ago, Boyd decided to open an online business. She thought, “What better to sell than the cast iron cookware?” She decided to call it Cast Iron Depot.
“I thought it was a good idea, but I knew nothing about starting an online business,” she said. “But I did some market research on cast iron, and there seemed to be a good market for it, so I decided to go for it.”
It makes sense that cast iron cookware would be in demand; it’s a safer alternative to using chemically-coated cookware. Non-stick surfaces like Teflon and Silverstone scratch easily and release plastic particles into food. Such surfaces also emit toxic fumes over high heat. These materials often rely on Perfluorooctanic acid, a chemical known to cause illness in humans, to obtain their non-stick coatings. Cast iron, on the other hand, develops its non-stick coating through an all-natural “seasoning” process involving vegetable oil or lard.
Cast iron is also more environmentally friendly than its aluminum and Teflon counterparts. Most cast iron cookware can be 100% recycled, and it takes less energy to manufacture.
If cast iron lasts so long (100 years or more), then why recycle? Boyd said the best way to reuse cast iron is to pass it down from generation to generation.
With all the positive news about cast iron, Boyd must be on to something.
But even the best business idea won’t work without patience, commitment, and most of all, good marketing, specifically social media advertising and search engine marketing.
“You’ve got to be out there and get people to see your site,” said Boyd. “A lot of people fail because they give up too fast. For me, it took three years to see results.”
Boyd added that having a product you believe in and some professional marketing helps.
“I tried to do the marketing myself, and I wasn’t terribly successful,” she said. “I really didn’t have enough time to put into it.”
Starting a business can be tough, especially when owners work another full-time job, like Boyd. A year after getting her site set up and a few misguided marketing efforts, Boyd said “there was nothing.” The next year, she saw more traffic to her site but not as much as she’d hoped. That is until 2007, when she started a marketing campaign through iePlexus. Her traffic began to increase, and Cast Iron Depot experienced its first Christmas rush.
“This year, I had an even bigger Christmas rush, and I attribute that to iePlexus,” she said. “I am on the first page of Google now. For a small, start-up business, I think that’s great.”
During the months of October, November, and December 2007 Boyd had $3,347 in sales. This year, during the same months, sales have increased by nearly 260% to $9,785, traffic increased 450% from 5,271 to 24,238, and the number of buyers rose by 175% from 81 to 142.
In December 2007, Boyd signed up with iePlexus’ Web 2.0 Plus program, which provides blog building, hosting, a domain name, a press release, social bookmarking, blog writing, and more. This combination of marketing services is intended to increase website exposure and credibility. It’s essentially social media advertising.
These ideas made sense to Boyd, especially the blog site and postings. iePlexus built her a business blog called Cast Iron Chatter. “It’s a way to connect with customers, introduce new ideas, and feature new products,” she said. “I can contribute to it whenever I want.”
As for the blog posts iePlexus provides, Boyd said “they really have a good handle on my products.”
There are millions of online businesses hawking every product imaginable, but that doesn’t mean any of them stand out. Blog sites are the way to do this. They humanize the business. They’re places where customers can connect with owners and where owners can offer insights into their products, philosophies, and past experiences.
Even business owners like Boyd, who work full time, can find a few minutes a week to write a blog post.
“I think they (the blog articles) have been very successful in driving traffic to my site,” she said. “Between the blogs and the submissions to different links, I have seen more business.”
The marketing may help, but high-quality products like those offered by Cast Iron Depot speak for themselves. Cast iron cookware costs much less than other types. It’s also more economical because of its durability and lifespan.
Despite its faltering start, Boyd has always thought her business has had an edge over brick and mortar stores. “At a shop you have overhead. You have to pay rent, maintain inventory, and pay insurance, shipping, and staff,” she said.
“I have an edge, especially in the current economic situation. In contemporary times, people are busy and don’t have time to go to the store,” she said. “On the internet, you can shop at two in the morning if you want. The internet is much more able to work with timelines.”
All in all, Boyd warns other prospective online business owners not to expect a walk in the park.
“People seem to think they are going to get into business and sit on a beach in Bermuda just watching the money roll in,” she said. “But it takes a lot of work and the right marketing to start making a profit.”
“But I believe that if you have a good product, it will eventually pay off,” she added.
As far as the marketing goes, that’s better left to the professionals at iePlexus, said Boyd. She added that in addition to her firm belief in her product, she’s relied on iePlexus’ press releases, blog post writing and posting, and social bookmarking services to get the word out on her product, and to ultimately put money into her pocket.