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Tacky Never Looked So Good

They're a little offbeat. They sell weird stuff on the Web. This is their story.

Steve and Sally Colby didn't invent the cheese that shares their name, but everything they sell is cheesy. As in tacky. Silly. As in the kinds of products you laugh at and wonder, "Who buys this stuff?" Quite a few people, actually-to the tune of an estimated $200,000 in 2000 sales. Steve, 50, and Sally, 46, are the sole owners and employees at the Hagerstown, Maryland-based e-store OfftheDeepEnd.Com. They sell household must-haves like flamingo lawn statues, a battery-operated fan shaped like a sumo wrestler and a skeleton toilet-brush holder.

On your web site, you have the warning, "All text and images are protected by an old gypsy curse that will cause your legs to grow together should you use such without permission." that brings me to ask: Who's the funnier of you two?

Sally: He is, definitely. He's funny all the time. Of course my son, who's a teenager, says that what Steve says isn't really that funny-it's just so stupid that you have to laugh.

And how did your business begin?

Steve: We're an extension of our old business, a retail store called Off the Deep End, which we started in 1990. We started with items with a '50s flavor to them-flamingo stuff. And then we kind of went into goofy, novelty stuff that I remembered as a kid-like X-ray specs. And we'd bring them in at Christmas for stocking stuffers-things like plastic doggie poop and plastic cockroaches.

The Web site came about because we were at a flea market, and there was this guy there selling hot sauces. The labels on the bottles were so cool, so we said, "Hey, let's start selling hot sauces [because hot sauces were an underserved niche on the Web at the time]." And we liked the name of the sauces. [pause] Oh, and the product was OK, too.

So who buys this stuff . . . like your skeleton stuff?

Steve: It's hard to classify people. We have friends who, I guess, are Gen Xers, but a lot of people just do what they like; they buy what they like. With our island things [grass skirts, luau supplies, etc.] and party lights, we're actively going after the Jimmy Buffett crowd. They're in their 30s to 50s and economically probably in a good position. And they're silly; I like that.

Sally: I have to say, the skull things have more to do with Steve [than with the customers]. He wants to be a pirate.


Geoff Williams would have been a great pirate, if he weren't afraid of the water, sharp weapons, parrots, being surrounded by men who haven't seen any women for months, and getting scurvy.

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the December 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Tacky Never Looked So Good.

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