Marlo Beauty Supply polishes its online presence

October 7, 2015 12:06 PM

After 28 years of operating bricks-and-mortar retail stores, Marlo Beauty Supply, a distributor of supplies to beauty salons and barber shops, sold its 12 stores to competitor Sally Beauty Supply in 2007 and put greater focus on its online business, Marlo Beauty owner Ingmar Korstanje says.

“It wasn’t a tough decision to make,” Korstanje says. “We saw the Internet was where everything was headed. We had the web business already, and, between that and our direct call center business, we could just sense that the wave of opportunity was in those two channels.”

Since 2007, Marlo has grown to serve some 20,000 salons nationwide, and 50% of the company’s sales come through online orders. The rest are processed through Marlo’s call center. The company, which is privately owned, declines to disclose its total or online revenue. But sales have been increasing a constant 30% year over year, and Marlo is “taking as many orders as we can manage,” Korstanje says. He credits growth to digital strategies that have helped the company acquire new customers. 

The Ferndale, Mich.-based Marlo started selling online in 2000, through the e-commerce platform ShopZone Web Edition. But the revenue from the sale to Sally Beauty and growing online sales inspired Korstanje to relaunch the e-commerce platform in 2007. To do that, Marlo licensed shopping cart software from X-Cart, whose technology includes predictive site search, customer log-in with social network credentials and other features.

But the distributor of beauty supplies still needed help with online marketing. To Marlo, even some of the basics of online marketing—search engine optimization terms, or the words and phrases people commonly use to search for Marlo’s products, and paid-per-click advertising—were marketing “voodoo,” Korstanje says. In 2008, Marlo hired Vector Media Group, a digital marketing firm that specializes in SEO, search engine marketing and website content display, to raise its online profile. Among other things, Vector worked with Marlo to invest in pay-per-click search ads and Facebook advertising.

That helped to produce new customers and increase sales, but the gains grew beyond the capabilities X-Cart could provide, Korstanje says. In 2013, Marlo built a new e-commerce in-house on proprietary technology.

Marlo launched the new in September 2014. Vector rewrote product descriptions, and added faceted search. Faceted search allows customers to select the attributes most important to them when searching for a product. If a salon owner is looking for a shampoo that must be organic, sulfite-free and good for dyed hair, for example, she can click those attributes in a navigation bar that appears with site search results to find the most appropriate products among the site’s 5,000 SKUs.  

Specific product search and descriptions helped index into some 6,000 pages in Google, which helped increase the site’s ranking when salon owners search on terms like “salon supplies,” “salon smock” and “professional beauty supplies.” High Google rankings, along with links that take the prospective to the product landing page relevant to her search, helped grow Marlo’s customer base by 30%, Korstanje says.

The new site was designed to be mobile-optimized, which enables the e-commerce site to automatically reformat its content appear on a shopper’s mobile device. This speaks to the needs of about half of’s 60,000 monthly unique visitors who visit the site through mobile devices. The conversion rate of customers who visit the site and eventually buy is 4%, Korstanje says.

Vector’s services cost a first-year fee of $100,000 in 2008, followed by $30,000 per year for ongoing assistance for Marlo Beauty Supply. While about 40% of the company’s customers find the distributor through organic search, Korstanje says it’s hard to quantify the return on investment.

“We’re very findable online and have a good SEO strategy,” Korstanje says. “We only focus on specific things for stylists and salon owners, and have an immense amount of search activity. We crafted a strategy based on organic search engines and good copywriting and drove success.”

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