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Interview with Larry Pike, who with his wife, Holly, discovered an under-addressed niche market and responded by building a very successful business around a subscription website

Holly and Larry Pike

Holly and Larry Pike

Over the years, Holly and Larry Pike have each had numerous careers, but they eventually quit their jobs to become full-time online entrepreneurs. Today, as husband and wife, they own and operate a subscription website for needlework hobbyists that ought to be the envy of every membership website publisher.

In this exciting and informative interview, Larry inspires us with their story of hard work and success.

MEQUODA Now as I understand it, you have two websites devoted to needle art: ArtisticThreadworks.com and ATWEmbroidery.com. What is the difference between them and how does the membership website model fit in?

LP Our first site was ArtististicThreadworks.com and is a store where customers can buy designs individually or in sets. It has been open 17 months.

From the time we went to bed last night to the time we got up this morning, we made over $1,000 in renewals. 

—Larry Pike

Our second site at Free-Embroidery-Machine-Designs.com was created using SiteSell (SiteBuildIt) as a search engine magnet. Last month it pulled in 6,400 new visitors. My only goal with this site is to get the visitors to join my email list. It has been open eight months.

Our third site is ATWEmbroidery.com and has been open three months. It is a subscription site and allows paid members to download any of our inventory that they want for a flat fee.

MEQUODA You operate this business with your wife, am I correct? What is her name and how did you get started doing this? What did you do before you operated these websites? Anything else we should know about you personally or professionally?

LP Holly and I started our business two years ago and originally intended it to be an embroidery business. When she was buying designs we realized that the design business had major advantages over the sewing-out business and we changed our focus to creating and selling designs instead.

I worked for an industrial supply company for the last 20 years in various roles from sales and marketing to purchasing, telecom management and sales analyst.

Holly was a classical musician, a music teacher, general manager of a music company and most recently an Oracle Systems Analyst for a Fortune 100 company.

MEQUODA What best describes your position with the websites? Are you the founder/sole owner/president/webmaster—all of the above—or what? Was this website your creation? How do you and Holly divide up the chores?

LP I am the webmaster and Holly is the product developer. We share all the other roles of marketing and management.

MEQUODA How did you come to start these sites? What’s it all about? Who are your members? What motivated you to launch your sites?

LP We started the sites to sell the designs Holly was creating. There are many challenges to figure out the technical aspects of creating a site with automated payment and e-product delivery but we knew from the start that it had to be automated or our income would be limited by our time to fulfill orders.

Our members are 98 percent female, average age between 40 and 65, have household income four times the national average and spend an average of $3,000 per year on their sewing hobby.

MEQUODA How long have your sites been active and what is your membership fee structure? What is included with a membership?

LP Membership is $15 for three months or $6 for one month.

MEQUODA Did you originally publish a free site, but later go to a membership-based model? If so, how did you ask your members to pay, and did they converting in the numbers you’d hoped for?

LP Our original sites had free information but the designs were for sale. We did a survey before opening the subscription site and expected to get about 20 percent of our customer base to buy a membership. So far, only about seven percent have subscribed.

MEQUODA Now to the technical details. To build your site, what tools did you use, and how long did it take?

LP I used VisionGate software and I create the pages in CoffeeCup HTML editor. It took about four weeks of evening and weekend time to get the site ready to open.

MEQUODA Can members subscribe online through a secure server, and is the process built into your site or outsourced?

LP Subscription is through PayPal. It is secure and inexpensive, but it is not the best choice in many ways and I am looking for another way to handle this part of the business. PayPal’s reporting system is weak and we would prefer to use our own credit card billing system.

MEQUODA What software programs or functions handle usernames and passwords, and is access immediate or do you provide access later via email?

LP VisionGate handles the signup tasks. The customer gets an email from PayPal with a link they click on to convert their membership to a paid subscription.

MEQUODA How easy, time-consuming, etc. is the process of adding new designs for members to access and download? How many people are involved? How often do you add new content?

LP It takes about and hour to create a download page with 10 or 20 designs. I do all the work myself and I try to add two pages per week.

MEQUODA Has your site changed significantly since you launched it?

LP We have made lots of changes in the first three months. Our site had three different home pages (guest/user/member) that have all been revamped several times. The original template had a menu on the left side. I created a top-bar navigation system a few weeks ago and implemented it with the help of the VisionGate team.

MEQUODA What’s the single greatest tool that helps you manage your membership site?

LP The software provided by VisionGate had made this possible for me. I had no desire to try to piece together a membership system from scratch. VisionGate was the right solution at the right price with the right features for our needs.

MEQUODA Marketing and promotion seem to be a great challenge for most subscription website publishers. How have you approached this task, and what kind of results have you experienced?

LP I mentioned earlier that we made a search-engine-friendly site to attract potential customers. I also run a google ad-words pay-per-click campaign and a Kanoodle campaign. We also pay for a small ads on another portal site and on a Yahoo newsgroup.

Our marketing revolves around a weekly newsletter that I create every Friday. It has six items in each issue—three content and three ads. In 13 months our free newsletter has grown to 15,000+ subscribers.

In the second month we realized that we could predict our income by counting the subscribers and multiplying by 50-cents for each person. That amount has inched up slowly but the subscriber count is still a good indicator of our business trends.

MEQUODA Do you have any advertising on your site? If so, how do you attract advertisers? Is ad revenue a significant source of your website income?

LP No ads on our sites yet. I have plans to put them on when I have finished my other to-do list items.

MEQUODA For Mequoda members who are devising premium content strategies for their online properties, any advice you would offer?

LP Just Do It! From the time we went to bed last night to the time we got up this morning, we made over $1,000 in renewals!

We have already had nine new subscribers today and it is only a little after noon on Thursday. Business picks up about 5 p.m. every evening and really gets good on the weekends.

MEQUODA What has been your greatest challenge to date, doing business online?

LP Figuring out how to get people to buy rather than just visit.

MEQUODA What’s the best or smartest thing you’ve done? What’s the worst?

LP Smartest: Learning to ask customers what they want before doing it. Worst: Making a special bonus offer that couldn’t be fulfilled automatically.

We spent a couple hundred hours filling those orders—and it was a freebie to our customers!

MEQUODA What subscription-based websites do you subscribe to and/or recommend?

LP BMyers.com and Mequoda.com.

MEQUODA Which of the above is “doing it right?” (marketing their product, building a subscriber base, providing value, etc.)

LP They both do it right. That’s why I joined.

MEQUODA What question have I neglected to ask you that you want to answer?

LP I think you covered them all, Peter. Thanks for asking me to participate. I hope in some way I am helping your subscribers to further their businesses.

Just a side note. Holly left her corporate job a little over one year ago and I left mine on Monday. The Internet is an amazing business playing field when you find a formula that works. The subscription website has been a very large boost to our business.

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