It started as all great things do: with beer. In 1994, Douglas Doretti and his brother Dirk, 36, took a hard look at the idea of "of-the-month" clubs and realized the niche was not well-tapped. So with their background in mail order (their father owned a mail-order pharmacy) and a very well-timed idea of offering microbrews, they began the self-funded Great American Beer Club, which hit our listing in 1996 at No. 32 with $2.85 million in sales.
Six years and a name change to ClubsofAmerica.com later, the brothers offer seven clubs through their Web site. "We first started when the micro-breweries were really expanding. Then we thought, why don't we try something new and so we got into the cigars right before the cigar revolution began," recalls Douglas 33, whose Lakemoor, Illinois, company was able to reach more than $5 million in sales last year. The Dorettis' good timing doesn't stop there: "We created our Web site three years ago and that was at the early stage of e-commerce. I was actually very pessimistic about e-commerce because it was in its infant stage. I was like, 'This is so overrated.' But then it started proving itself," says Douglas, who estimates that 50 percent of his company's orders are placed online, with the other half coming from traditional marketing like radio and direct mail.
The Dorettis plan to continue on the path that has led them to success-diversifying their product offerings beyond the current flowers, chocolate, wine, beer, pizza, coffee and cigars. "What we would like is to diversify and have ClubsofAmerica.com be a branded name," says Douglas. "We have a lot of ideas; they're kind of secretive, however." We bet that whatever it is that they come up with will end up being way ahead of its time.