Steamboat Springs Jenny Wall owes a couple of Web site sales to Sarah Palin - and to the moose in the crosshairs of the former vice-presidential candidate's gun.
Wall owns Moose Mountain Trading Co., a downtown Steamboat Springs store that sells, among other items, a moose cap with antlers. She didn't have any in stock when the first interested fellow called in October. Wall ordered a cap. A couple of days later, she got another call for the same item. The man was readying for Halloween.
"He said, 'My wife looks like Sarah Palin, and I'm going as the moose she shot,'" Wall said. "He said, 'Isn't that the greatest idea?' And I said, 'It is - and you're not alone.'"
Wall has been pushing vigorously to build Moose Mountain's Web presence. She got serious a couple of years ago, hiring Debbie Baum, of Backroads Web Development, to work on the site. Wall sells products online including Dale of Norway, Icelandic and Neve clothing. The attention is paying off. Even as in-store sales slip amid recession, her online business is gaining speed.
Last year, online sales more than doubled compared with 2006, representing 15 percent of Wall's total sales. This year, Web sales increased about 11.7 percent as of Dec. 18. For the month, they're up 3 percent. Those customers combine with Wall's other three groups: locals, tourists and second-home owners.
"The bottom line is that we've developed a viable fourth client group, and we call them - affectionately - 'the face we don't see,'" Wall said.
Baum works to attract those faces with search engine optimization. Not only does Moose Mountain buy ads on Google, Baum also strategically places words on the site that people might search for.
"More and more people are finding her," Baum said. "A lot of people finding her on the Web are new clients. A lot are return clients, but she gets a lot of new clients every month."
Moose Mountain does show up here and there. A Google search for "Icelandic sweaters" brings up Moose Mountain at the bottom of the first page of results; it's No. 10. A search for "Dale of Norway sweaters" brings up Moose Mountain on the second page of results; it's No. 13.
"It's not optional to just think about doing this," Wall said. "You have to be smarter."
Adding an online component is challenging, Wall said. She recently shipped a couple of wrong hats. But, she said, she corrects those errors. Customers seem to appreciate that. Wall displayed a sheaf of e-mails last week from people who appreciated her personal service.
Anne Stagg, of West Suffield, Conn., ordered her second Moose Mountain item last week. Stagg said she had been impressed in March when she needed to exchange a Web-purchased Dale of Norway sweater for one of a different size. Wall included a personal note with the second sweater.
"That kind of customer service you just hardly ever encounter these days, so I'm glad to give them my business," Stagg said.
Customers such as Stagg are fairly new for Moose Mountain. Wall never sees their faces, but she said she tries to keep that personal touch.
Stagg was well aware of those efforts.
"I've never even been to Steamboat Springs, and it doesn't even matter one bit to them," Stagg said. "They take care of you as if you're standing across the counter from them."
She bought another sweater last week during a Moose Mountain promotion offering 20 percent off items of specific colors in the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Stagg waited for the "Pink Day" and ordered the garment.
"I think they're a wonderful store, and I'm really glad to be able to give them an endorsement," she said.
Drawing customers and maintaining a Web site requires ongoing work, Baum and Wall said. Keeping the site fresh increases the chances that search engines will pick it up and holds customers' attention.
"It takes a lot of time and energy to do it," Baum said. "It's not just, 'Get it out there and they will come.' It's continual focus; you have to work on the site."
Kenton Stratton, at Mountain Traditions, can attest to that. His Western art gallery has a site, but building a Web presence is going slowly.
"It's kind of like a little baby," Stratton said. "You have to feed it all the time."
Wall probably is the most prolific Web seller downtown, he said. The Moose Mountain owner said she enjoyed the challenge.
"It's a very much 'Yes, we can' attitude - 'Yes, we will,'" Wall said. "It's have fun trying new things. Times are tight. It's time to control what you can."
She's pleased with Moose Mountain's progress and presence on the Internet.
"We're not perfect," Wall said, "but we're doing pretty darn well."