A lot of online retailers have come and gone since the early 2000s. But Baton Rouge-based ShoppersChoice.com has continued to grow at a double-digit pace and is on track to reach nearly $100 million in sales during 2016.
The company also is wrapping up construction on a $1.8 million warehouse at its Airline Highway offices. The 60,000-square-foot building is set to open next month, a move that will give ShoppersChoice.com room for future growth, said founder, owner and President Mike Hackley.
“I think we’re on the cutting edge of growing extremely big,” Hackley said. His personal goal is to turn ShoppersChoice.com into a billion-dollar company.
Since 2007, ShoppersChoice.com has made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies eight of nine years. The company did $72 million in sales in 2015, a 22 percent jump over the year before. So far for 2016, Hackley said sales are up “20-something percent.”
ShoppersChoice.com’s roots go back to Hackley’s days in the hotel industry. He was driving from Des Moines, Iowa, to interview for a hotel management job in Baton Rouge when he passed a Barbecues Galore store in Dallas.
“I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ and 10 months later we were open in Baton Rouge,” he said. The Grill Store and More opened on Tiger Bend Road in 1998.
A few years later, when the economy took a downturn caused by the burst of the dot-com bubble, Hackley was looking for a way to keep his business open. He was in Shreveport, trying to bring in a new line of grills to keep the company afloat. A friend suggested that he move his business to the Internet. Hackley launched the BBQGuys.com website, and within a year, he had shut down all three brick-and-mortar stores and moved his business into his home in Hickory Ridge.
“We had a five-bedroom house and the other four bedrooms were full of products,” he said. “I don’t know how the homeowners association didn’t kick us out because I had the tape gun going all day. UPS was picking up 100-plus packages at the house every day.”
ShoppersChoice.com grew from five employees in 2003 to 140 today.
Hackley said the number of employees has doubled over the past two or three years. He credits the employees with helping ShoppersChoice.com grow so rapidly.
“We’re trying to develop a great core and culture of people we have working for us,” he said. “They believe in this company.”
To that end, ShoppersChoice.com offers employees perks like an in-house chef preparing lunches every day, massage chairs, quarterly parties and free Uber rides. “You’re only as good as the person under you,” Hackley said.
Another factor in the growth at ShoppersChoice.com is the company’s unique line of products.
The company started its own line of patio furniture in spring 2014, Lakeview Outdoor Designs. Along with selling the products on ShoppersChoice.com and its other niche websites, the furniture is now being distributed to other dealers. The rapid growth of Lakeview Outdoor Design is one of the drivers of the Airline Highway warehouse expansion.
Hackley started a spin-off business, Blaze Outdoor Products, with Corey Tisdale, who serves as the director of marketing for ShoppersChoice.com.
Blaze engineers and manufactures grills, smokers and drawers. One of its products is an all-aluminum Kamado-style grill that’s sturdier and better at heat retention than traditional ceramic models. To promote the grills, which Hackley said will retail for about $1,500, Blaze has produced YouTube videos of employees bashing them with hammers, shooting them with pistols and blowing them up with explosives.
“Blaze did $15 million in sales last year and I think we’ll double that this year,” Hackley said.
“The brand is growing faster than ShoppersChoice ever could.”
The company’s products are being sold by online retailers such as Amazon and Overstock and in stores.
ShoppersChoice.com opened its own store several years ago because some distributors and manufacturers didn’t want to sell to an online-only business.
The Coursey Boulevard store is now a training hub for the company’s customer service programs as well as a source for additional revenue. ShoppersChoice.com is in the process of getting permits to allow for liquor to be served at the Coursey location, a move that will allow the company to host private events that could lead to future sales.
“We’re trying to deliver a little different shopping experience,” Hackley said. “We’re always cooking over there.”
Ninety-five percent of ShoppersChoice.com sales still come from the Internet, with 40 percent of the traffic coming from mobile devices.
The company is ranked as one of the top 300 online retailers in terms of volume of sales.
While there has been a lot of shift in the online retailing world with businesses coming and going, Hackley said ShoppersChoice.com continues to grow because of a simple philosophy. “We don’t owe anybody any money,” he said. “I’m the sole owner of this business. If we don’t have the money for something, then we don’t spend it.”
Over the years, there have been offers to sell ShoppersChoice.com to other retailers, but Hackley said he’s turned them down.
“I’m still having fun,” he said. “And I think we can still grow the company much bigger.”
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate