Another Small Retailer Beats Expectations

Posted by: John Tozzi on December 23, 2009

Another one of the retailers we’ve been tracking through the holiday season exceeded expectations. David Sasson of Overstock Art, an online retailer of replica oil paintings based in Wichita, Kan., told me Tuesday that he had just finished the best week in his company’s eight-year history, with sales more than double his previous record week.

“I don’t know if you can tell from my voice how tired I am,” he said. “We’ve been working around the clock for the last few days,” including Saturday and Sunday.

Overstock Art has seen consistent sales growth since August, including several months at 60% above 2008 levels. Sasson is projecting 2009 sales will top $4 million. He credits increased spending on search advertising and strong customer service that has brought repeat customers back, along with discounts as high as 35% or 40%. Demand outstripped Sasson’s expectations, and Overstock Art even ran out of some paintings they try to always keep in stock, like replicas of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

Some small business owners aren’t sure whether better-than-expected holiday sales mean a recovery is near. Sasson says he thinks the downturn isn’t affecting Overstock anymore. He’s wary about inflation (as an importer his costs go up if the dollar loses value). He also wonders what will happen to spending if the stock market drops again and people are feeling less wealthy. But overall, Sasson feels what a lot of small business owners haven’t felt for a long time: Optimistic. “I see around my company so much positive energy. It’s not something quantifiable,” he says. “Things are a lot more positive.”

Reader Comments

Chris

January 2, 2010 05:00 AM

If a luxury item retailer does so well during the 09 holidays are we to assume that the recession is coming to an end? What is the rate of returning customers? If it is a high rate, it might make that statistic a KPI to follow if you are to survive such a tough economic environment.

David Sasson

January 9, 2010 06:09 PM

I just saw your comment. Yes the return customer rate is fairly high. We made it our mission to take care of customers so that they want to come back and shop with us. It is part of our core values. We treat it as one of our KPIs.

Mike

March 30, 2010 10:47 AM

Just like Overstock Art our company's sales are doing very well this year... the best in years. We import from Germany a high quality consumable that is more of a premium product compared to similar offerings here, so I can relate to this story.

I keep saying the customer isn't dead just more selective. They're looking for high quality products, excellent value (price:results) and great service. Many customers I speak to are tired of dealing with so-so quality products and lousy customer service.

I'm watching some of our competitors disappear. They're usually the ones that had the so-so products, so-so service and may have grown too fast.

Finally, I share the same optimistic sentiment as David. I will add that I do believe that retail sales won't be anywhere near where they were in the past few years. But frankly I would rather see slow steady growth instead of crazy sales then another collapse.

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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