November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Specialty/Non-Apparel

Specialty retailers are filling a niche, and in niche retailing, it’s critical that merchants know their customers very well


Specialty/
Non-Apparel
ActionEnvelope.com
Beckett.com
Diapers.com
DrsFosterSmith.com
eBags.com
Expressionery.com
EyeBuyDirect.com
FatBrainToys.com
Fathead.com
Faucet.com
Gaiam.com
Gardeners.com
LionBrandYarn.com
MoMAstore.org
MusicNotes.com
Muttropolis.com
Novica.com
Oakley.com
Organize.com
PetsUnited
SamAsh.com
Staples.com
Sweetwater.com
Timbuk2.com
ToolKing.com
VistaPrint.com
Zazzle.com

Mass merchants have customers with wide-ranging tastes looking for any number of products. Specialty retailers, however, are filling a niche. And in niche retailing, it’s critical that merchants know their customers very well.

The 27 retailers in the specialty/non-apparel category of this year’s Hot 100 know their customers, and show that in the ways they present and market themselves and communicate with their consumers.

Muttropolis, for example, has gotten to know its customers through countless interactions over the years in its five stores. This year, the retailer decided to bring the highly social and crazy atmosphere of its stores to its e-commerce operation by launching its own social network, the Online Pet Park. In the realm of Internet retailing and community, Muttropolis is way ahead of the pack-only a handful of e-retailers host their own social network.

It’s hard to imagine people more enthusiastic about anything than pet owners, but trading card collectors must come close. Beckett Media LP knows this very well, and this year redesigned its web site in a way that specifically addresses the needs and desires of its customers.

Arranged in four sections-Learn, Discuss, Organize and Shop-the new Beckett.com enables a customer to bring together elements from any of the sections to create a personalized home page. The Organize section allows customers to list and display all their cards-from the worlds of sports and entertainment-showing what they have, what they’re looking for and what they’d like to trade. That new feature is integral to a site that helps the e-retailer sell its primary product, trading card pricing guides.

And just because its products may not be the sexiest on the block doesn’t stop Tool King from serving its customers more and more of the information and features they want.

Its Toologics site, a companion to the Tool King online store, features tool reviews, tool news (including product recalls and trade show coverage), a resident expert (“Ask Rick!”) and how-to videos. The videos are available through a dedicated site, ToolKing.tv, as well as at Toologics. Tool King is also starting to use YouTube and Facebook to extend its brand via the realm of social media. Back to top


Sealing the deal
ActionEnvelope.com tries to make it easy to find the right combination of style, color and price in its large assortment of paper and envelopes.

Mousing over a top navigation tab for paper or envelopes pops up a box offering several ways to shop. Someone looking for magenta envelopes would click on Shop by Color, move a horizontal scroll bar to view the nearly 100 colors the e-retailer offers, and click on just the shade of magenta he wants. The next page shows all the envelopes available in that color.

Someone who needs an envelope for a special purpose, such as fundraising or to hold small parts such as nuts and bolts, can Shop by Use and see all the specialty envelopes available. Want sparkly envelopes? Shop by Collection.

“People come to the site with something in mind and we give them multiple ways to find it,” says Seth Newman, chief operating officer of the web-only retailer that mainly serves small businesses. “Some people know exactly what they want, and others don’t.”

These features are part of ActionEnvelope.com’s latest redesign, which went live in January 2008 after a 15-month collaboration with design firm Alexander Interactive. Other new features include a more streamlined one-page checkout and a reorder function that lets customers see their last five orders and quickly reorder-a big time-saver for a customer that has previously spent time on the site providing the details for customized envelopes or stationery.

The product page lets visitors enter a quantity and immediately see the price. That’s important because prices go down significantly as the quantity increases.

“We don’t have a sales force; our web site is our sales force,” Newman says. “Everything a customer needs to know should be there.”

“ActionEnvelope.com is an all-around class act,” says Ethan Giffin, founder of e-commerce consulting firm Groove Commerce. He likes the category pages and Shop by Use area, and adds, “Their one-page checkout is very slick and contains visual elements to help drive visitors to the next step, and turn them into customers.” Back to top


Your own home page
Back in the day, kids would get their allowance and run down to the dime store to buy a pack of baseball cards. They’d sort through the cards to see if they were lucky enough to land a treasured card, as well as to figure out which cards they already had. Then they’d get together with other kids on the block to swap cards.

Recreating this ancient practice online, but on a worldwide basis, was one of the goals of Beckett Media LP’s 2008 site redesign. The e-retailer started from scratch, transforming its longstanding staid site into a build-your-own Beckett.com inspired by the likes of MyYahoo and iGoogle.

Arranged in four sections-Learn, Discuss, Organize and Shop-the new Beckett.com enables customers to bring together elements from any of the sections to create their own home pages. The Organize section allows customers to list and display all their cards-from the worlds of sports and entertainment-showing what they have, what they’re looking for and what they’d like to trade, a feature new and integral to the site that helps the e-retailer sell its primary product, trading card pricing guides.

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