Finders Keepers

Al Schneider, usedmall.com

Al Schneider, 58, and his business partner, Harvey Berlent, had a good deal of professional experience in the technology industry and were running another computer-related business when they started usedmall.com. So when it came time to find customers for their new Internet-based, electronic classified-listings service in March 1996, they knew just where to look.

"We already had existing relationships with our customer base, so we contacted potential customers we knew and invited them to try the site. They responded by putting up ads for their products and services," Schneider says. The primary emphasis of the site is business-to-business classified ads pertaining to the buying and selling of used and surplus equipment. To ensure that a good number of items were available for sale on the site early on, Schneider and Berlent offered many of their contacts the opportunity to run a free ad for 30 days. This gave their site an established feel right off the bat and showed potential customers that their idea would work. That generated repeat customers--several people who placed free ads have since become paying customers.

Schneider and Berlent constantly stressed the USP of their business in order to find and keep customers. In contrast to classified advertisements placed in traditional media, which are typically seen by a limited number of people in a limited distribution area, ads placed on usedmall.com can be viewed by millions of Internet readers worldwide. As their site has grown, the partners have found new ways to communicate this USP to others. They have listed their service on nearly 100 search engines and they've arranged mutual hot links with other Web sites that attract a similar clientele.

Still, Schneider and Berlent have never forgotten to keep in touch with the customers who've helped make their venture a success. "We occasionally send them press releases and other correspondence. We have face-to-face conversations and make personal phone calls to update them about developments with the site," Schneider says, "and to let them know we appreciate their business."

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This article was originally published in the December 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Finders Keepers.

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