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“Paid advertising is not longer the path to gold. The rules have changed and you need to think differently to survive.”

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George Lee has led the growth of Probus OneTouch, an Internet retailer, since 2003. In 2010, Inc. Magazine recognized Probus OneTouch as the 24th fastest growing privately held retailer in America. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal ranked Probus as #4 among the 50 fastest growing private companies in Minnesota. In January George started SnapSocialMedia.com, a division of Probus OneTouch provides website design, hosting and social media services for 150 businesses and nonprofit organizations.

George is also the founder and president of Jobs Foundation, a nonprofit organization that creates employment opportunities for the underserved, and serves on the boards of Courage Center Winter Sports and Prism (food shelf).

George Lee, Probus OneTouch - President & CEO

MO: Do you think that technology can limit growth?

George: No, investing in technology that makes your business scalable and tools that provide better and relevant information are investments that will help you grow. The tools available today to help you make data driven decisions really help to minimize business risks. The key if what metrics to measure.

MO: What are the most common issues and challenges in managing e-commerce projects?

George: It is easy to fall into a mode of not following best practices and using good tools for design and usability. Getting sales ramped up and measuring the ROI for new projects often contributes to the diversion of not testing, retesting, and testing again before a final launch. We implemented and use a six step stage gate process to keep us on track. Today, the cost of paid advertising has put a very real margin squeeze on financial metrics. The new model for internet marketing is a combination of paid, social media, blogging, affiliates and PR.

MO: Can you talk about the difficulty of securing supplier relationships if you are an ecommerce only retailer (no physical store)?

George: Suppliers of recognized branded products have experienced significant problems with controlling who sells their products online and the retail price points. Additionally there is a supplier mentality of “we already have brick & mortar retailers that have an online store” and can’t bridge the gap between a physical store and online store. With the strategic initiative of adding products that are not private label to our stores, we know this was going to be a big challenge. The recognition from Inc. and Business Journal was done specifically to prepare for the credibility factors needed to help branded suppliers feel comfortable with an “internet company”.

MO: What inspired you to create the Jobs Foundation? What kinds of resources are you able to provide? Have you been able to see firsthand the difference you’re making in people’s lives?

George: Identifying ways to give back with the core competencies ( in addition to cash) corporately has been a challenge. When I took a step back and had to put into one short sentence “what we do”, the result was “we use the internet to turn stuff into cash”. So if we could get free stuff (donated stuff) and turn it into cash, what social mission would we focus on. The answer was the underserved and disenfranchised population that wants to work, but has limited opportunities for employment. Seventeen full time jobs, a marriage, 6 people having their first apartment has been the result.

MO: How are you keeping up with the fast pace of interactive marketing for your ecommerce sites and more than the 150 companies that you provide services to?

George: Hiring people that are passionate about interactive marketing that use it in every part of their life. Most of this demographic are under 30 and have been a part of the first launch of social media and continue to stay up with the speed of change. Additionally, a learning from starting SnapSocialMedia.com is the variety and experience of what works for 150 different organizations. That experience helps us do a better job for our own ecommerce sites.

MO: What are three trends that you’re excited by?

George: The fast impact of mobile to the retailing has been a disruptive change for brick & mortar and internet retails alike. This movement has caused a complete rethinking of traditional business models and marketing. The number of social media channels continues to expand and without the tools to consolidate the management of these channels, the amount of work and cost would be prohibitive. Lastly and most important is the ecommerce marketing model of Google Ad Words up until 2 years ago was all you had to master to drive traffic to your website. The rules have changed and continue to change rapidly. Paid advertising is still important, but the ROI is more challenging. Referrals, endorsements and promotion from credible relative sites will outpace traditional methods of internet marketing.

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