December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Deals without wheels

“New stuff dirt cheap” is the mantra at Andy’s Garage. The Fingerhut subsidiary sends its staff of eight buyers scouring the country in search of closeouts, liquidations and manufacturer’s overstocks to offer at rock-bottom prices.

A pioneer of e-commerce, Andy’s Garage has been attracting bargain hunters for four years. Contrary to popular belief, the Web site is not named for Andy Johnson, Federated’s president of e-commerce, but a fictional character created for online cachet. “Anybody can sell on the Internet,” says Mike Holm, business manager for Andy’s Garage. “You really have to have a brand.”

The site’s homespun appeal-think Prairie Home Companion-filters through loud and clear via “garage tales” from proprietor Andy, the joke of the week and even many product descriptions. It may sound corny, but the folksy tone makes the online shopping experience more personal, says George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants in San Marcos, Calif.

A redesign will improve navigation and place products closer to the home page to reduce clicks. Andy’s Garage is also adding a new e-mail system to improve customer service.

Offerings have exploded from 100 SKUs when the site first went live to as many as 5,000. But offerings now are being scaled back to focus on bigger and better deals. With Rayban sunglasses slashed by 85%, even the most impervious shopper could lose control.

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