For Tracy Norris, the e-commerce business is bread and butter.
“When I made my first website in 1997, I had no Internet or computer training whatsoever,” Norris said. “I did buy a book for dummies.”
A chiropractor by trade, Norris practiced in Wichita for about 20 years before selling his practice and working full time on his Internet companies in 2007.
What started in a room in the back of his practice grew into Norris E-Commerce Management, which manages several Internet companies, most notably PainReliever.com and iFurn.com.
Pain Reliever sells a variety of medical products directly to consumers as well as to businesses.
Norris said he thinks his background has helped him market his products.
“It’s given me the ability to understand conditions and understand what patients and customers need for those conditions,” he said. “It allows me to express that through our website and give a little authority to it.”
IFurn.com, which sells home and office furniture, was started in 1998 and had more than $12.5 million in sales in 2012, Norris said. Pain Reliever did about $2.5 million in sales last year, Norris said.
Both companies have been named to Inc’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies list: iFurn.com in 2008 and Pain Reliever in 2010.
In 2011, the company moved to the old Circuit City building, 8405 E. Kellogg, where it housed medical supplies in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse.
Last year, however, Norris decided to change the business model and drop-ship Pain Reliever’s products. That means products are shipped to customers from the manufacturer, instead of from a warehouse in Wichita.
The drop-ship model has made logistics more complicated, Norris said, but the benefit is lower overhead with fewer employees and building costs. The company currently has 19 employees.
“We had $1 million in inventory, and we found that the costs of inventory and products like that and having space and staff and warehouse to support it wasn’t supporting the business model we needed,” Norris said. “In furniture, we never stocked anything. It’s all been drop-ship model because it’s heavy and big and bulky. The switch to drop-ship model in Pain Reliever turned out quite successful.”
Norris, who thinks most people in the area don’t know much about the company, says they don’t sell many goods within Kansas. The biggest markets are in more heavily populated areas of California, New York and Florida, he said.
“We’re still a homegrown business, a small business atmosphere fulfilling big business needs,” said Erica Woods, director of sales and marketing.
Despite having flat growth for the past couple of years because of the economy, Norris said he thinks the company is poised for growth.
“When people don’t build and buy new houses to furnish and businesses don’t open new offices, that slows everything down, but we’ve maintained all the growth that we’ve had,” he said.
“The products for the elderly are really popular now, but I believe it’s just the beginning because all the people who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s right now aren’t necessarily that Internet-savvy. So it’s mostly their children that are online buying for them.
“But within the next 10 to 15 years when people like me reach that age, they’re going to be Internet-savvy, so we’re trying to be well positioned in the market so when that group who buys online and are used to it all their lives will buy from us.”
Norris said he also thinks they are in the position to help other companies get into e-commerce.
“We can multiply the success we have and knowledge in marketing to most any product line we want,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people that want to get into e-commerce but don’t quite know how, a lot of retailers. We could partner with them, create websites for them and handle their sales.”
Most Internet companies have been waiting for years for the hammer to come down on tax-free sales.
Many bricks-and-mortar retailers argue that online businesses have an unfair advantage in the marketplace because most don’t charge sales tax on most of their sales.
“Hopefully that tax doesn’t start being charged,” Norris said. “I hear it’s coming. It’s been a big benefit for Internet companies for a long time.”
In an effort to reach more customers online, Norris’ companies have set up niche websites to drive Web traffic.
“We have PainReliever.com for anybody looking for things like ice packs or pillows, but we also have a site Pillowmart.com set up where we specifically focus on a person looking for a pillow,” Woods said.
“It helps up the conversion rate and is a more targeted marketing strategy, lessening the visibility of all the products on the website so people don’t get distracted.”
Pain Reliever has about a dozen niche sites and iFurn has 15 to 20, said John Kenemer, vice president for marketing.
The company also actively uses search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to increase Web traffic
The next initiative is to start targeting mobile shoppers by creating sites with different layouts for smartphones, making them easier to navigate.
“I think within the industry itself, the crystal ball is toward mobile,” Kenemer said.