Time for Change

Breaking into a Niche Market

Elena Neitlich, 39; Andrew Neitlich, 40; & Cari Whiddon, 38
Moms on Edge LLC, Osprey, Florida
Projected 2006 Sales:
$55,000
The Business: Best friends Elena Neitlich and Cari Whiddon were discussing the challenges of teaching their children how to behave. How can parents be consistent with consequences? After all, it's not easy to make a little one take five in the middle of a shopping mall. Soon, an idea began to take shape: The Original Naughty Spot--a portable mat with a timer for timeouts.

Whiddon and Neitlich carved out time to develop that idea and others by parking next to each other at the local Wendy's with sleeping children in the back seat or taking their cordless phones into their closets for a few minutes of uninterrupted discussion. Soon, Andrew Neitlich, Elena's husband, came onboard as a partner and director of operations. The business officially launched in 2005.

"Our site was up in September, and we got our first order in October," says Elena. "When people placed orders, Cari sent out an e-mail that said we didn't have our products in yet, but people e-mailed back and said, 'We'll wait.' That's when I knew we had something special--when people wanted to purchase [our products] without us having them in our hands."

The Challenge: Because the company specializes in niche products--"products for peace, quiet and good behavior," says the tag line--educating customers and getting them to the site were key challenges. ProStores business advisor Angela Troy says, "Children's items are so competitive. There are numerous hits for 'place mats,' so we needed to be sure that the right keywords were being used."

The Solution: The redesign includes enhanced graphics and a cleaner look. The ProStores team added featured products to the home page, which helps educate customers on the types of products the company specializes in. Other additions include a shopping cart that's easier to use, an online retail order form and price list, more shipping options and free shipping promotions, and a much easier back-end interface. Links to eBay make managing auctions simpler, and a blog keeps customers entertained and informed and gives them another place to provide feedback.

"Revamping an e-commerce site is not just about web design," says Whiddon. "It is about a comprehensive strategy to attract prospects, convert them to customers, and manage the back-end order and fulfillment process. We have become much more aware of the importance of various online marketing options, as well as the potential [for] PR."

Marc Desrosiers, 50
RaceWax.com LLC, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
Projected 2006 Sales:
$100,000
The Business: Marc Desrosiers liked watching his son's ski team race but didn't like dipping into his pockets regularly for $50 bars of race wax and $100-per-bottle speed additives. As a chemist, Desrosiers recognized that the ingredients in those pricey products were actually relatively inexpensive.

When his son decided to test ski waxes for his science fair project, Desrosiers did some experimenting of his own. He purchased some of the ingredients and began creating his own ski wax, which he distributed to his son's racing team.

"They were thrilled that I was able to give them some of the stuff that they pay a lot of money for," Desrosiers explains. "Then they said, 'Hey, you should sell this stuff.' I had the idea that I would put up a website and send [prospects] a small sample [for free], and if they wanted more, they [could] buy some from me." Since that nondescript launch in 1999, Racewax, which specializes in affordable ski and snowboard wax products, has been featured in a ski trade magazine and has fielded orders from around the world.

The Challenge: Desrosiers felt that his lack of business training was holding him back. After reading about using eBay as a marketing tool, he gave it a try, and his sales volume steadily increased. However, there was no strategy or comprehensive approach to his marketing or branding, especially on his website, www.racewax.com.

ProStores business advisor Lin Shearer says this is another case where looks matter. "In the product line he's in, a cool logo is going to go a long way on patches [and] decals," says Shearer. "He needs to create a true corporate identity."

The Solution: Sporting a hot new logo created as part of the makeover, Desrosiers' new site is now far more functional, even allowing customers to accurately compute shipping from many countries. He's learned a great deal about search engine optimization from the consulting sessions and webinars in which he participated. Plus, the ability of the site to capture more customer data from both his eBay auctions and his direct sales will boost his ability to market his business. Says Des-rosiers, "One of my goals, along with the management of customer information and inventory, was just to be able to use information technology to do a lot more and make my busy life a little easier."

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the November 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Time for Change.

Loading the player ...

Shark Tank's Daymond John on Lessons From His Worst Mistakes

Ads by Google

Share Your Thoughts

Connect with Entrepreneur