Choose Your Path

Nothing But Net

While a kiosk offers face-to-face interaction with customers, an online retail store suits entrepreneurs who are more comfortable with the technological side of things. Experts note that an online store works well for selling products that customers are already familiar with--stereo equipment, computer equipment, cameras--items you don't necessarily have to touch to know what you're getting. Still, it seems online stores exist to sell just about everything--it's just a matter of finding your audience on the web.

An online store can be inexpensive, or it can cost thousands for a professionally designed website. One benefit of starting online is that it can be done part time and at any hour of the day or night. The downside? It can be difficult to get the word out about your site. Segel notes that your placement on search engines is key to getting hits. Check out The Complete E-Commerce Book: Design, Build & Maintain a Successful Web-based Businessby Janice Reynolds or Success With Online Retailing: For Small Businessesby Patrick Tan for more information on e-commerce. For even more resources, check out Entrepreneur's E-Biz section.

Still, if you've got the technology down and you have the right product, an online store can be a huge success., an online children's room decor and gift emporium, is just such a story. Founded in 2002 by husband-and-wife team Joe and Tara Mediate, 45 and 38, respectively, along with Tara's sister, Trace Walsh, 44, the e-commerce site used the combined talents of all three. Joe, a former software entrepreneur, brought his technological and operational expertise to the table, while Tara brought her retail background, and Walsh brought her knowledge of catalog retailing.

Working from their Roswell, Georgia, locale, the trio decided they didn't want to drop-ship inventory--they wanted to be different from other online startups and keep stock on hand so they could offer customers quick-turnaround shipping. They also made a strategic decision to print a catalog to complement their online sales--something that especially endeared them to their target demographic, which then spread the buzz to others via word-of-mouth. In fact, says Joe, "Seventy percent of our leads come from somebody's friend of a friend." The team has built its niche by offering unique, personalized gifts, and has built yearly sales to about $3 million.

What all these entrepreneurs have proved is that with determination, passion, a kick-ass product and a whole lot of chutzpah, retailing can be just the startup path for you. Be it peddling from a kiosk, hanging a shingle in front of your brick-and-mortar store or selling to the world from the comfort of your own desktop, you can be a retail giant--even if you start small.

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This article was originally published in the March 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Choose Your Path.

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