Never underestimate the power of a good makeover. That was the message behind the e-Business Boost Challenge, sponsored by Entrepreneur magazine and ProStores, an eBay company and full-service e-commerce solution for SMBs.
However, this makeover wasn't about fashion and grooming. Instead, the winners, who were announced on June 13 at the annual eBay Live! convention, held this year at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Convention Center in Las Vegas, received a complete overhaul of their online sales efforts. More than 500 entrepreneurs operating online or through brick-and-mortar stores submitted entries describing their businesses and products as well as why they needed an enhanced online presence.
"We wanted to [encourage] business owners to take advantage of a powerful small-business web solution designed to establish and build an online presence," says Julian Green, director of ProStores. "We are eager to educate entrepreneurs who want to further develop their businesses but don't know how to actualize their growth potential through online sales channels."
Over a five-month period, the six winning businesses were evaluated, and professionals from Entrepreneur, About.com, PayPal, ProStores and eBay provided consulting services to each business, teaching them how to ramp up their online and offline marketing efforts and business operations. In addition, each winning business received a website overhaul from ProStores, complete with integrated e-commerce functions and a one-year subscription to ProStores' Business tier service. Here's a closer look at the six winners, their online challenges and the striking makeovers.
Maggie Vasilyadis, 27
Essenceology.com, New York city
Projected 2006 Sales: $25,000
The Business: Maggie Vasilyadis knows all about makeovers. Working in the cosmetics industry for nine years, she noticed a distinct trend toward more natural beauty products. "I saw this big change coming, with a lot of demand for natural products, and wanted to start right away," she explains. So she downloaded a website builder from Yahoo! and created her website in less than a month, launching in January 2006 and sourcing products by turning to trade magazines and attending trade shows.
The Challenge: Essenceology.com is run on a very small budget, and Vasilyadis works on it part time while holding her day job. She wasn't thrilled with the design limitations of the site builder she chose and felt her site could be cleaner and easier to navigate.
According to ProStores business advisor Richard Lawrence, the online beauty products space is very crowded, and Essenceology.com needs some basics to survive. "Essenceology must have a sophisticated web design that will allow it to compete with the major beauty product sites," he says. "The company is focusing on a fast-growing niche in the beauty products industry: natural and organic products. Unlike her competitors, [Vasilyadis'] products are very reasonably priced. [She] has a good eye for the types of beauty products that are in demand, as she shops the world looking for the best values."
The Solution: The key word in the redesign seems to be clarity. The new site, says Vasilyadis, keeps the clean look of her previous endeavor but adds many new features for consumers' convenience, including clear descriptions of each product and its use, along with better organization of products by category. The site also captures more customer and sales information for future marketing efforts. Checkout is seamless, using ProStores' interface with PayPal, and Vasilyadis can easily add products as she finds more that fit her mix.
"I learned that I don't have to do everything myself," Vasilyadis says. "My expertise is in the beauty industry, not in building and designing a site. With help from ProStores, I was able to have control over the design and administrative options to build a site exactly as I pictured it. With more professional design, more consumers will trust the site, and there will be [fewer] abandoned carts."