Longtime friends Barbara Watkins and Cheryl Headley say it was fate that led them to become small business owners. Three years ago, when they discovered an opportunity to purchase an existing business, they considered it a chance to make their dreams a reality. Today, Monogram Lane is an online retail business that offers many personalized items — from jewelry to car accessories to cell phone cases and much more. Monogram Lane remains a two-person business, and the duo say they are still living their dream.

One of Monogram Lane’s keys to success has been customer service that’s as personal as the products it sells. As part of our celebration of National Small Business Week, we caught up with Barbara to learn how the friends have built such a successful business, and how that personal touch translates to its marketing efforts on social media and in email.

How did you decide to start Monogram Lane?
My friend Cheryl and I happened upon the opportunity to purchase an existing small online monogram store owned by a local girl in Orlando. (We call it a “God” thing.) Cheryl had previous embroidery machine experience, and she has a marketing degree, and I had computer/technology and blogging experience. After much discussion with our spouses and some prayer, we decided to step out on faith and do it! We knew God had given each of us skills in the past that we could bring to the business. We each have our strengths and we play to them. And, because we live in different states (I live in Nashville), we knew we could do this as an online venture.

What advantage does being a small business give you over your larger competitors?
As a small business, Cheryl and I are able to focus great attention to detail with our customer service. This was our primary goal when we began Monogram Lane. We wanted to give customers a reason to shop with us instead of anyone else. We personally respond to every inquiry and chat with our customers like they are our friends. We never send “formatted” responses to anyone; that would go against our “Southern Hospitality” philosophy!

Can you give an example of that more personal customer experience?
Since most of our products are personalized, we want to make sure our customers get something they will love. Sometimes customers choose options that don’t look aesthetically pleasing to us. If we don’t like the way their personalization options look, we know they probably won’t either. So we take the time to send them a sample image before production to see if they like what they chose. Many times they don’t and they thank us profusely for letting them see it first. They often change their choice to one we suggest as a better alternative. This keeps customers happy on the front end instead of them contacting us afterwards about a personalization that they don’t like — even though it’s exactly what they ordered. We want the customer to get exactly what they want. . . that makes for happy customers who give us repeat business and great word-of-mouth advertising.

Speaking of word-of-mouth, how have you spread the word about Monogram Lane? Do you use social media?
We started a Facebook Page. On our Page we encourage everyone to join our email list to get announcements about sales and discount coupons. We encourage our personal friends to suggest Monogram Lane to their Facebook friends. I’ve seen product giveaways done by many small companies on Facebook. We had a contest on Facebook once and gave away a free monogrammed umbrella. We made people tell us a short, relevant story about their worst adventure of being caught in the rain without an umbrella. They had to post their response on our Page and also “share” it with their friends on Facebook. That put us on their home page so all their friends would see our name.

Sounds like Facebook is your main social media channel.
We link our Facebook Page to our Twitter account. We also have a blog that’s linked to our Facebook Page using Networked Blogs, so all posts automatically go on Facebook. I make sure I don’t duplicate a blog post and a Facebook post for this reason. We have our own channel on YouTube too. We included a link to one of our videos in a recent email. And we also use lots of pictures on our blog and on Facebook. Retail customers want pictures not words.

Your email marketing program has been successful. Do you have any advice to share with your peers?
Use catchy subject lines, but do not tell people in the subject line what is in the email. If they already know, then they won’t need to open it. For example, If our email is for Monogrammed Spa Robes and Wraps, we don’t say “New Monogrammed Robes and Wraps” in the subject line. We try to tease them with “All Wrapped Up” or “It’s a Wrap!” We once used the subject line “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby!” for our new technology Monogram Decals, and in the email we showed a picture of an antique typewriter and then a laptop and cell phone with the product we were selling.

Come back tomorrow to learn about another small business that’s making a big difference!