If you drive just a little ways off Interstate 70 into Glenwood Springs, Colo., you’ll find yourself traveling through a beautiful valley that runs between rugged mountainscapes dotted by hearty trees. This is where the showroom of Strange Imports is nestled, open to any customers who are curious about the store’s rich collection of Eastern Asian furniture, artifacts, and countless other valuables — from antique Turkish olive jars to wheelbarrows and urns.
Owner David Dixon started the business nearly 20 years ago, after he took a trip to Asia following high school graduation and developed a passion for Asian antiques and cultures. While Strange Imports (also known as Strange Imports / Eastern Elements) began as a wholesale business, it has slowly grown to accommodate walk-in customers, online retail, and trade shows.
The scenic location of the store — and a recently opened branch in Aspen — provides a place for new customers to browse goods, but only if they can find it. To that end, David says that the store has been working on ways to reach out, both online and off.
“We’ve been trying Google Adwords, and we upgraded our website so it has a shopping cart feature. We’ve published glossy magazines related to design, and done ads in newspaper and through public radio,” he explains. “But what’s really been great for us is Constant Contact Email Marketing. It’s probably some of the best marketing dollars that we spend.”
David estimates that about 20% of Strange Imports’ sales are from its marketing through Constant Contact. And its warehouse-worth of exotic items lend themselves to two keys in Strange Import’s emails: beauty and adventure.
When Professional Means Eye-Catching
David started using Constant Contact in November 2007. Before that, the store had been using Microsoft Outlook to send emails. However, David decided that he wanted a more professional look for Strange Imports’ messages. Nowadays, if you open a newsletter from the store, it’s bound to be full of pictures of garden statues, hand-woven baskets, and more. Just scrolling through an email feels like taking a quick look through the store itself, whether you’re scanning a collection of Buddha statues for the garden or polished wooden benches for the living room.
That’s one of the most distinctive features of the emails: how beautiful they are. Photography has taken a central role in each newsletter. While many photos showcase individual items, others just show off the store itself, or new merchandise being taken off the truck. On the Strange Imports Facebook Page, customers have the option to show off how they’re using the furniture by posting photos to the store’s Facebook Page. The emphasis on visuals means that there are often just as many pictures as there are words in each email, unless David is sharing tidbits about one of his journeys to regions in China, Nepal, and Tibet.
Most emails from Strange Imports make a point to showcase the store's unique pieces
When David does include stories from his travels, he makes sure to share a little bit about the country, too. “Occasionally, I include a ‘Strange News’ feature, where I share some things I experienced, or about social issues affecting the area,” he says. Some of these reflections are quite detailed, describing both the people and culture of the country. That means they can run a few pages long, so David includes a preview of the article in the newsletter and links to a different page outside of the email.
In addition to “Strange News,” David helps keep customers up-to-date by sending newsletters about trade shows he’ll be attending. Sometimes, he’ll bring as many as 500 pieces to display in venues like Kentia Hall in Los Angeles. In this case, emailing wholesale customers and designers can be crucial to making sure that they stop by.
“Our biggest challenge is keeping in touch with our customers, especially because they’re all over the country,” David says. Strange Imports has four very different kinds of customers: direct retail, online, design, and wholesale. By segmenting his email contacts into lists, David guarantees that he can stay in touch with all of them, but only send them things that they want to read.
Coupons help add another incentive for subscribers to open. Sometimes, there are discounts of up to 50% for people who open an email, which could in part explain the impressive sales that come from Strange Imports’ email marketing. “That’s usually how we get new subscribers,” David explains. “We tell customers that if we have their email, we’ll be able to email them offers and sales, and we include a lot of coupons for shipping for people who order online.”
Whatever the reason a subscriber opens a newsletter, it’s clear that you can expect each email from Strange Imports to be just as unique and interesting as the items in the store itself.
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