By Michelle Prather
The last person you'd expect to build a discount brand-name fashion e-tailer into a thriving Web hub of style boasting 100,000 customers and half a million registered users is some guy who used to manufacture golf gear. To that, Bluefly.com founder Ken Seiff says, "I wasn't a golfer when I got into the golf business, and I wasn't particularly well-dressed when I got into the clothing business." But what the now better-clad (minus the tie-Net life demands too many hours for such constriction) entrepreneur has, and has always had, is an eye for the next big thing.
While working for a management consulting firm right out of the college gates, Seiff learned to spot industry trends that hadn't publicly manifested themselves. From then on, he says, his "desire to be at the front of the business curve" took him to where the profits were.
Seiff had pondered the Internet's possibilities since the early '90s when he was busy restructuring golf apparel company Pivot Rules, which he'd founded in 1991. (He was even featured in our magazine back in October 1993 as a young millionaire for his efforts.) In 1998, however, facing an industry in decline, he concluded salvation wasn't likely. He sold Pivot Rules and used the capital to start Bluefly.com in New York City.
Seiff admits his greatest asset in getting Bluefly.com off the ground was his hand-picked team (he conducts final interviews with applicants), including reputable buyers from Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman who've helped open many a door. His number of suppliers has grown from 30 to more than 400.
Bluefly.com's customer-centric approach is helping the company buzz its way to analyst-projected heights of $20 million this year. As a wholesaler in the golf industry, he only got to hear retailers ("a particularly unhappy lot," he says) voice their problems and how he wasn't solving them. He was surprised by how vocal consumers are when they get what they want.
Customers' criticism, however, is never swept under the rug. "We spend our lives trying to be customers of the site," says Seiff, "but there are customers out there plenty smarter than we are. They give us terrific ideas [such as automated order tracking and designer profiles], and we try to be responsive."
While the financial community is busy separating the winners from the losers in e-commerce, Seiff has surprised everyone by becoming part of the Net elite who have survived and prospered. "We're not 'there' yet," he says, "but we're making very significant progress."