Normally the mention of Antarctica brings images of snow (lots of it), icebergs (big ones), and penguins (cute ones), and sends chills down your spine when you think about the subzero temperatures there. For some this may not seem like the ideal locale for a relaxing vacation or a desirable place to live and work, but surprisingly enough, this icy continent is increasing in popularity. Just ask Tom and Gloria Hutchings, founders of Jackson, New Hampshire-based The Antarctic Connection.
After working in Antarctica for four years, the couple realized there was an untapped opportunity to create an e-commerce site devoted to products related to Antarctica. Tom, 38, and Gloria, 36, launched the site in 1998, and so far, it's still the only e-commerce site on the Web devoted solely to Antarctica, offering everything from books, maps and videos to clothing, posters and gift items.
In its first year, the site had about 50 visitors each day. Today it welcomes 20 times that figure. During this past Christmas season, the couple saw a huge increase in sales-and tripled their projected sales. Here's a look at how Tom and Gloria took a cool concept and turned it into a hot Net business.
HomeOfficeMag.com: When did you develop this interest in Antarctica?
Tom Hutchings: In 1985, we met a couple of people who worked in Antarctica and that sparked our interest. It was one of those places to put on our list as a place to visit or a place to work. After applying for a few years, we were hired and began working in Antarctica 1990. My background is in construction so I worked as a carpenter and construction coordinator. My wife worked in logistics. We became interested in the program because it was something exciting, and we wanted to travel. We didn't have any kids so it seemed like an ideal opportunity.
HomeOfficeMag.com: How did you begin developing your business?
Hutchings: We were originally going to contract out the Web site work, which meant spending a lot of money. Instead we decided to start off small based on some recommendations from an accountant as well as some other folks in the business. I didn't know anything about HTML programming or e-commerce so I just dove into the books and started learning. We were able to lease the software that's the backbone of the e-commerce structure, and I built the main pages.
My wife's background is in retail management so she knew about setting up a warehouse, structural fulfillment and operations. We took one of the rooms in our home and turned it into an office. We completely gutted our basement [to create a warehouse]-removed everything, put up shelving and built fulfillment benches.
HomeOfficeMag.com: How do you find the products you sell on your site?
Hutchings: There's a store at each of the U.S. research stations in Antarctica, and one of the jobs my wife had was to run a store. She was able to get contacts with a number of the store's suppliers. We also conducted Internet searches for other products.
HomeOfficeMag.com: What would you attribute to your increased growth?
Hutchings: Getting our brochures out to specific Antarctica mailing lists or travel organizations targeting Antarctic travelers. I went down to Antarctica again this past year and distributed our brochure all over the place. We also started a mailing list on our site and we have a few thousand members.
HomeOfficeMag.com: What plans do you have for the site in the future?
Hutchings: This year we're hoping to come out with a catalog. I know there's a lot of folks uncomfortable with putting their credit card online so I really want to have a catalog people can just order through and not have to be as concerned about privacy issues. Every year, there's more tourists going to Antarctica, and the growth of this area of interest just seems to be jumping.