When Chris Hughes lost his job during the Great Recession, he found himself re-evaluating what he could do to make a living. Drawing on his passion for vintage military style and utilitarian design, Chris started Artifact Bags in his basement studio in 2010. Using a secondhand sewing machine, he began making bags, aprons, and accessories from domestically sourced fabric and hardware. Chris quickly launched an e-commerce website and began selling his products on other e-commerce platforms. “I read pretty much every business book I could get my hands on so I could understand all the operational aspects of scaling a business,” said Chris. But it wasn’t until one of his bags was reviewed on two popular websites that business really started to take off. “I immediately received hundreds of orders, and while that was great, I realized I needed to figure out how I could fully capitalize on this opportunity,” he said.
At first, Artifact Bags relied on word of mouth to drive customers to its website. “I had an ‘if you build this, they will come’ approach,” said Chris. While Chris received press from his approach, he had to make sure his website was visible to people searching for his bags, so he turned to Google for help with search engine optimization. Products like Google Search Console and Google Analytics helped him measure organic search traffic and website performance — both of which he still uses today. “50% of our online traffic comes from Google organic search,” Chris said. The Artifact Bags team also relies on G Suite apps like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Drive to collaborate and stay organized.
Since opening, Artifact Bags has grown more than 20% year over year, and Chris plans to launch a dedicated apron site this year. With Artifact Aprons, Chris plans to use Google Ads to reach people who are searching for aprons or similar items. “Digital marketing has become much more sophisticated in the last several years,” said Chris. “We can tailor our message to the individual.” As his company continues to grow, Chris is looking forward to donating more of his products and profits to charitable causes. He is proud of overcoming unemployment and being able to provide jobs for others. “It blows me away to see all these talented artisans that we’ve been able to bring into the fold,” said Chris. “We feel really proud that we’ve been able to go against the grain and create this thing that we put our hearts and souls into.”
Sand Creek Post & Beam
The foundation for Sand Creek Post & Beam was laid in 2004, when Len Dickinson and Jule Goeller produced their first barn kit in their driveway, and shipped it to Grinnell, Iowa. They soon set up shop in the nearby college town of Wayne, and since then have designed and shipped kits for customized barns for every purpose, from housing livestock to hosting weddings. “They wanted to create something that was new but focused on our rich rural heritage, using traditional timber framing methods, and was safe for the environment,” says Marketing Director Cody Wortmann. The business now also offers post and beam wood kits for rustic-style residential homes and has grown by about 90 percent in the past five years.
Sand Creek Post & Beam invests heavily in the web to reach customers beyond Nebraska. “I would say 95 percent of the time people who buy our structures won't have actually seen one in person,” explains Cody. “So it’s crucial to show them as much as we can online.” When he took over as Marketing Director in 2013, Cody ramped up efforts to reach these potential customers through AdWords, Google’s advertising program. “We have such a niche product, so the ability to target our advertising to folks who are looking for exactly what we're doing has been extremely efficient compared to print or traditional TV,” he says. As much as 70 percent of their advertising budget is now digital. “Our growth in online led to our biggest year ever,” he shares.
Today, Sand Creek Post & Beam structures can be found in 48 states and five Canadian provinces. “We have trucks heading to California, Texas, and all over the nation, out of a town of 5,000 people,” says Cody. More expansion is in the blueprint for Sand Creek Post & Beam. A record number of inquiries from interested customers came in 2017—and growth for the business means growth for the community they call home. “Small businesses are a big part of Wayne,” Cody says. “A big reason the owners chose to come here was the strong work ethic and sense of caring found in the community. In a small town, employing over 50 people definitely makes an impact at the local level. And that’s pretty cool.”
Anyone who's had a wireless device break knows the panic that subsequently sets in. It needs to be fixed—and fast. Jason DeWater, who’d been tinkering with things since sixth grade, had a passion for repairing microelectronics. When his brother-in-law's iPhone earpiece speaker broke, he fixed it. This led to him launching a mobile repair service out of his basement in 2012. "Business really took off and grew very quickly," says Jason, who opened his first brick-and-mortar store a couple years later. "We started adding employees with new skills and expanding our portfolio of what we can fix." iFixOmaha now repairs smartphones, tablets, and laptops. In two short years, they’ve grown to four locations as well as onsite and concierge services.
From the very beginning, Jason has used Google tools to run his business. He relies on AdWords, Google's advertising program, to bring gadget-frazzled customers to his website and storefronts. "Our biggest advertising bang for the buck is AdWords," he says. “It outperforms any advertising you can imagine, and we’ve tried them all.” Jason estimates 50 percent of business comes from AdWords, with sales increasing 40 percent per year. “What’s really incredible is that every time we increase our ad spend, our sales grow proportionately. It’s like a limitless well.” Google Analytics also enables him to better understand his customers and adapt the business to “meet the services they’re actually looking for.” Google Sheets and Calendar let him track internal workflow, manage inventory, and coordinate work shifts among all four locations. And Google My Business bolsters his online presence with hundreds of customer reviews and 360-degree virtual tours of his stores.
The more Nebraskans go wireless, the more they need iFixOmaha. In 2016, the business had 10,000 customers and saw an increasing demand for other services, such as the installation and repair of integrated home wireless systems. This year, Jason plans on doubling the number of stores and adding staff to meet the growing need. "The secret sauce behind how we were able to outgrow our local and even national competitors is we embraced the power of Google, right out of the gate." Thanks to iFixOmaha, Nebraskans no longer need to worry about their wireless devices failing them. “We can fix anything here,” says Jason.
Cutting Edge Business Cards
Cutting Edge Business Cards had a 700% increase in revenue from 2014 to 2015
Cutting Edge Business Cards is a veteran-owned business that produces high-quality print and design products. "A business card is like a handshake," says co-founder Jamie Kadavy. "It should be strong and sturdy." Since their founding in 2013, the Omaha-based company has relied on their Internet presence not only to spread the word around the region, but to draw clientele from other states and even other countries. “Truly, as a small business, we have found a national presence,” Jamie says.
Google My Business has helped power the company's rapid, triple-digit growth. Most customers find them via their Google business listing, which appears on Google Search and on Google Maps. "Three-quarters of all our search engine traffic originates from Google," Jamie says. AdWords, Google's advertising program, lets Jamie target specific markets. "One of the greatest things about AdWords is I can pick what type of audience I’m looking for, where I want them to be located, and specific keywords I want to pursue," he says. Google Analytics provides detailed information on customer traffic (sales come from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, and Germany), while Google Search Console helps Jamie keep the website tuned up and responsive to customers' needs.
They now serve 1,200 customers and the business shows no signs of slowing down. "It doesn't matter if they're a multimillion-dollar customer or a startup company, we provide the same service for each individual," Jamie says. His a-ha! moment came when a client landed $8 million in business by handing out just eight business cards. "My business partner, Troy, and I joke that each of those cards is worth $1 million." Jamie plans to expand company promotions using Google+ and YouTube as they strive to become a nationally recognized brand. "We've integrated Google into our daily operations," he says. "We can directly attribute our success to our online presence." His advice to other small businesses? "You've got to get on Google My Business."