Customer service fuels online retailer’s growth

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Ironically, the human touch is the main reason that a Shenandoah Valley online retailer has seen sales soar.

The 16-year-old company, Blue Moon Galleries in Waynesboro, sells luxury gifts exclusively on the Internet.  “A lot of our products are high-end, and they’re often for a special day, like a wedding or an anniversary or graduation, and so since our customers can’t touch them and look them over in person, we make a really big effort to put as much information about each product as we can on the website and also be very personal and helpful with them when they call with questions,” says Stacey Strawn, one of the company’s owners.

Company customer-service representatives have been known to spend up to 30 minutes on the phone helping a grandmother pick a silver baby cup and the right wording for an engraving.

Such extra effort enabled Blue Moon Galleries to grow, despite an especially tough recession for retailers, and to compete successfully with major department stores. Revenues rose 25 percent last year and are up another 30 percent this year.

“Even in a recession, people are still going to buy wedding gifts, baby gifts, graduation gifts,” Strawn says. “And I think because the Internet is so convenient and we’ve been around for so long, people feel comfortable with us and know that they’re going to have a good experience.”

The company, which has nine employees and is hiring, has a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and showroom in Waynesboro. Its online galleries offer more than 7,000 products, including brass, silver and stainless-steel home decorative items, collectible dolls and teddy bears.

Stephen Dahl and Shawn Straining started Blue Moon Galleries as a web-services firm in 1994.  Strawn, who married Dahl, became a partner in the company. The three partners helped develop and implement databases for online retailers. Eventually, they decided to try their hand at Internet commerce. In 2001, they began supplementing their existing business by selling brass lamps online. When that venture took off, they became full-time retailers.

“We didn’t expect that level of success, but it led us to say, ‘A lot of people like brass, but even more people like silver.’ So we found a manufacturer we could work with and began a silver gallery and grew even more from there,” Strawn says.
Blue Moon’s immediate challenge is to stay current with technology and continue to improve the functionality and customer-friendliness of its website. Strawn says customers soon will be able to preview an engraving on a gift before it is bought.

“Our goal is to grow in a smart way and add more employees but not to the point that we ever become impersonal,” says Strawn. “Given our philosophy, that would mean we had gone too far.”

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