January 24, 2003, 12:00 AM

Tiny Niche Retail reports surging growth in specialty online markets

Sales at Niche Retail, which sells outdoors products at nine web sites, grew from $67,000 in December 2001 to $475,000 last December without a corresponding increase in staff.


Niche Retail LLC started operating online in September 2001 with two specialty retail web sites catering to outdoor enthusiasts like golfers and jogging parents. Just over a year later, its total sales have grown sevenfold as its number of retailing sites has grown to nine. Yet its staff has expanded only fourfold, from two to eight, thanks to an Oracle Small Business Suite that integrates order information with its back-end business software, owner Tyler Smith tells InternetRetailer.com.

"We built our first site just to see if the specialty concept would work, and then searched for software," he says. He chose the Oracle suite, which is produced by NetLedger Inc., a company partly owned by Oracle Corp., because it appeared to be the only software that could integrate his online orders with his back-end accounting and other software applications. Smith says he figures the Oracle suite saved his fledgling company the cost of hiring several employees during the 2002 holiday shopping season because the system integration eliminates the need to reconcile data. "It makes all the difference," he says.

Niche Retail did $67,000 in sales in December 2001 through its first two sites, JoggingStroller.com and SuuntoWatches.com, which sells sports watches for divers, golfers and other outdoor enthusiasts. A year later, it posted $475,000 in December sales from its nine sites, each of which focuses on a narrow niche market: EliteCarSeats.com, AltSkate.com, TrekPoles.com, WeatherGadget.com, RadarSource.com, KestrelMeters.com, which sells hand-held devices that provide wind velocity and related information, and WaterBounce.com, which sells water trampolines and related recreational products.

The secret to handling sales for all of these sites is using a common checkout mechanism integrated in the Oracle software suite, Smith says. He adds that the suite covers a range of operations, including a storefront commerce server. But Niche Retail decided to retain its proprietary online storefront software so that it could maintain distinct sites for each of its online retailing operations, he adds. Niche Retail was able to easily integrate its own storefront software with the Oracle suite, he says.

Smith says he likes the fact that Oracle continuously upgrades the Small Business Suite with new capabilities, even though Niche Retail did not want some of the upgrades initially. But with minor tweaking of the Oracle software with the help of an outside consultant, Smith says, he`s been able to make the upgrades improve the overall performance of his web sites. For example, one Oracle upgrade of the ordering process provided multiple views of customer addresses, but it left Niche Retail unable to copy and paste the customer`s address into its shipping system. It only took minor tweaking by Niche Retail to continue the copy-and-paste routine, he says.

Oracle`s fees for the Small Business Suite start at about $100 per month, based on the number of users and features.


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