This article is part of the “Write For” series, a collection of writings produced by the University of Central Arkansas Department of Writing to highlight incredible organizations that rely on professional writers. To learn more about Professional Writing and the opportunities it offers graduates, click here.
What do beef jerky, beeswax candles and knives made out of railroad spikes all have in common? They’re products sold by Bourbon and Boots, a Little Rock online retailer that relies on a team of professional writers to draw in customers with a passion for Southern-styled goods.
Writers’ responsibilities generally fall into two categories: curating new store items and creating articles that appeal to Bourbon and Boots’ website visitors (more on the latter here). Both roles have undoubtedly contributed to the company’s meteoric success, which includes generating more than $1 million in sales in less than two years.
Hannah Bryant and Meleah Bowles, Professional Writing majors at the University of Central Arkansas, experienced the fast-paced world of online retail startups as Bourbon and Boots interns. Most of their contributions were on the product-curating side of the writing team, but Bryant and Bowles have a long list of skills they’ve learned on the job.
Admittedly, some of these skills are probably more marketable than others. One day Bowles was given the task of using stencils and spray paint to prepare some of the company’s first subscription boxes—themed collections of Bourbon and Boots goods that are periodically mailed to subscribers. “I spent two hours spray painting meat cleavers onto burlap,” she said, laughing.
Although Bowles may never pursue a career in burlap painting, she and Bryant have undoubtedly benefited from their many hours of product scouting and description writing. Product scouting is essentially scouring the Internet for handmade, small-batch goods and contacting the vendors who sell them.
Writing emails to vendors was a balancing act that required a blend of personality and formality – a voice Bryant calls “Southern hospitality.” Bowles said she took a calculated approach when contacting vendors. “We try very hard to make it seem informal, but at the same time, we’re very careful about how that comes across,” she said.
After products were scouted and secured, Bryant and Bowles wrote product descriptions for the Bourbon and Boots website. Bryant said descriptions are written in a quirky, witty tone, and Bowles added that a description “has to be fun – it can’t read like an online Walmart description.”
The descriptions are definitely unique. For example, if you were interested in buying a cardboard deer head to mount on your wall, you’d find the following paragraph on the Bourbon and Boots website: “Love the look of a mounted animal trophy but don’t want to sacrifice one of the world’s precious creatures? You’ll love these humane, eco-friendly and easy-to-assemble Cardboard Safari Mounted Animal Trophies.”
Bryant and Bowles emphasized that professional writers interested in online retail should be familiar with content management systems – platforms like WordPress that allow companies and individuals to post articles and products online. The interns agreed that it would be beneficial for students to create personal blogs and experiment with writing for an online audience.
Bryant also said she wished she had been more familiar with search engine optimization before beginning her internship. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of crafting online content in a way that makes it appear higher in search results. Type “Johnny Cash necklace” into Google’s search bar, and you’ll witness the fruits of Bourbon and Boots’ SEO labor. Is their product one of the first results? It’s no accident. Increased visibility means more traffic, and in this particular situation, traffic leads to more people wearing “I keep a close eye on this heart of mine” charms around their necks.
Bryant and Bowles said they also learned quite a bit about website analytics during their internships. Bourbon and Boots and companies like it use programs like Google Analytics to gather information on customers and how they interact with websites. This, in turn, allows writers to define their audience and personalize the way they write product descriptions and other online content. Bryant said that if she was having a particularly difficult time writing a creative product description, she would think about data gathered through analytics, visualize her customer based on that information and craft a unique, eye-catching pitch.
If you’re a people person who can craft vendor emails as sweet as grandma’s iced tea and pen product descriptions as smooth as homemade cider, you may enjoy resting your boots beneath a desk at an online retailer like Bourbon and Boots. But maybe ferreting out hot new products and contacting their owners isn’t your idea of a good time. If writing entertaining articles that draw in customers is more your speed, click here to read about the other half of Bourbon and Boots’ writing team.