Make Your Mark
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Standing out from the crowd is your key to success, but it can be difficult on the crowded internet. The following entrepreneurs use a variety of ways to rise above the noise.
1. Packaging: ScrapYourTrip.com, an Orlando, Florida, scrapbooking supplier, uses customized Priority Mail boxes from the U.S. Postal Service that are specially branded with the company logo. Founder Julie Swatek, 40, says the boxes--which she helped create and are free of charge--have really helped her company make a name for itself.
"The box is completely flat and is 16 by 16 inches," says Swatek, describing how it's a perfect fit for the scrapbooking paper she uses. "Before, I had to manually cut the flaps of a shirt box and tape it." This newfound efficiency has helped push the company's projected 2007 sales to $2 million.
The USPS won't do custom packaging for all businesses; shippers usually must purchase $250,000 or more per year in expedited services and have the capacity to accept and store large shipments of packing supplies. But as Swatek says, "If you meet those requirements, it's a great opportunity."
2. Education: Education is important to WhiteFlash.com, a Houston e-tailer that sells diamonds. The company offers a comprehensive diamond library with commentary from gemologists, appraisers, former diamond graders and professional educators. Visitors can educate themselves about diamonds in the site's "About Diamonds" section. Unique videos help visitors understand and clearly see the diamonds.
"Our most informed customer is our best customer," says Debi Wexler, 49-year-old CEO and co-founder with executive vice president Brian Gavin, 50. "Our clients gain the confidence to buy when they can leisurely view diamonds and our video tutorials. With confidence comes trust and repeat business." Wexler says the company spends about 5 percent of its $10 million in sales on educational materials for customers.
3. Social networking: NaturallyCurly.com in Austin, Texas, targets women with curly hair. The "CurlTalk" section of its website is a social network where more than 25,000 curlyheads discuss everything from hair and fitness to guys and astrology. Visitors can also review products in the site's "CurlMart" and "CurlProducts" sections. "Reviews from our community have helped make or break products and stylists," says Michelle Breyer, 44, who co-founded the company with Gretchen Heber, 43.The cost is right as well. "It would be very difficult to put a number to the cost of running CurlTalk," says Heber, whose company expects sales of $1.4 million this year. "It's certainly minimal, as bandwidth is pretty cheap and our moderators are all volunteers. There were, of course, programming and development costs, but they weren't extravagant."