Justin Schoen won’t build your e-commerce website.
That is to say that he’s not a designer. Though his business is helping businesses market themselves online, don’t just assume he’s all about web design.
“A lot of people ask,” Schoen said as he sat in office in Clive, Iowa. It’s a point of confusion that the University of Iowa graduate and MBA student is quick to clear up. He has a couple of experienced firms he consults that do design work for his clients, such as Websiteforge, an all-in-one e-commerce solution he recommends. But getting people to come to your site, or in some cases just enticing them to come in the door of your business — the real marketing mojo that can’t be coded in a week — is where Schoen makes his mark.
Schoen is the sole proprietor of eComegy, a commerce and marketing consultancy. eComegy assists clients in everything from SEO, blogging strategy and utilizing search engine business profiles to consulting on marketing strategy and target customers. In his work with retail clients, Schoen said, the goal is “trying to get more of their customers to use the online tools so [those customers] can make smarter purchasing decisions, while expanding their customer base.”
Schoen received fairly uniform advice from his mentors, who include his father, Don Schoen, a second-generation entrepreneur, and Drew McClellan, a Des Moines-based e-marketing maven. Both extolled the virtues of beginning with a narrow market for his talents.
“Retail was really going to be my niche,” Schoen said.
Schoen began working with clients such as P&P Small Engines, an East Des Moines business that used the web to take its services nationwide, and Sticks Gallery, the handcrafted wood artwork and furniture gallery started by Sarah Grant. Many of his current and past clients are not the types of business that you normally expect to find in the online space — some purposely don’t even have online stores — but they all benefit from the wider exposure Schoen is able to facilitate.
Schoen’s retail expertise has its roots in one of the more storied outlets in central Iowa: G&L Clothing, where he started in corporate sales and swiftly lobbied the ownership to not just create an online presence for the 90-year-old brand, but to allow him to manage those operations. In a few short years, he developed G&L’s online to match the market-leading position of its brick-and-mortar counterpart. But as Schoen’s marketing talents grew under the mentorship of the mid-Iowa fashion stalwart, he knew that using those skills with only one client or employer would not sustain his interest.
“I really felt like I was ready to move on and was at a place where I’d trained some key employees that I had under me to take over what I had done,” Schoen said.
Schoen left to start eComegy, whose trademark is “E-commerce Strategy and Digital Marketing for Retailers.” But as of late the former ski instructor — the West Des Moines Valley High grad spent some time in Colorado before returning to Iowa — has quite deftly followed the downhill path to more non-retail and startup clients.
“The web is really going to be their No. 1 marketing sales channel,” Schoen said of his startup clientele, which includes BuyerCompass, a designer of mobile shopping applications. “How do we do that? They’re not going to advertise on the TV or radio or print. The web is really it.”
“There’s no overnight success,” Schoen said, describing how he approaches new clients. “Online marketing is an ongoing process — particularly search engine optimization. It takes time. Clients that I’ve picked up have had someone who says, ‘Hey, I can get you to No. 1 in Google in two months!’ If anyone ever says that to you, they’re lying.”
If you think Schoen’s prognostication is simply hedging, take a moment to review the BIZ Luncheon Series presentation he gave last month on SEO. About five minutes into the 30-plus-minute presentation, it becomes clear Schoen knows the ins and outs of finding success on Google and Bing. Just like most business endeavors, success on the web is a result of focused effort over many years.