March 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

Developer of sails with new niche at

With a new e-commerce platform from Volusion and customer leads from, Duane Dewsbury has traded a 20-year Navy career to focus on his newest passion: reviving sales of dress hats at


When Duane Dewsbury was ready to trade his 20-year career as a Navy communications specialist for a life of retailing, he knew the web was the only channel that could serve his chosen niche and revive sales of the once ubiquitous fedora.

“Hats are making a major comeback,” Dewsbury says. But without the web, he adds, the fedora niche would be hard to bring back in a store-only environment.

Dewsbury, who developed as a recruitment site while working as a Navy communications officer, starting looking for a way to carry his online expertise into retailing after leaving the service. Noticing that few stores were selling brimmed dress hats, he acted on a hunch in late 2004 that there was enough of a national market to support a web site specializing in sales of fedoras and other high-end headgear.

Starting off selling on eBay, Dewsbury quickly realized his hunch was right, as enough orders came in to warrant a separate web site, he says.

By February of 2005, he had launched using the e-commerce platform provided by eBay’s But he found that platform too limited in design capabilities, and migrated his site earlier this year to a platform provided by Volusion Inc. The result, he says, is a better shopping experience, including an easier-to-use shopping cart and a far lower cart-abandonment rate.

The Volusion platform has also made it easy to integrate his site with an outside live chat feature from Provide Support LLC that costs $19 per month, Dewsbury says. For each online order, the system automatically generates a purchase order and forwards it to his drop shipper.

In March, his first full month under the new platform, he was better able to handle orders coming in from several sources, including Google and Yahoo search engine marketing campaigns and comparison shopping sites Shopzilla, Froogle, NexTag and

Shopzilla is’s primary source of traffic, generating about 1,900 visitors in March, compared to 240 for Froogle, Dewsbury says. Shopzilla also produces the highest visitor-to-order conversion rate--at 3.46% in March, compared to an overall conversion rate of 1.3%, he adds.

Dewsbury figures that part of the reason Shopzilla performs better than other traffic sources is due to the images of hats that appear next to its listings. And to help conversions, he adds, he sets prices on his site lower than the prices he runs on Shopzilla.

On average, Dewsbury makes about 25% margin on each hat, after paying 50% to the supplier and 25% for marketing, he says.

He’s now starting to expand his product line to include vintage hats from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, which he finds in estate sales and on eBay. “I find some that are 50 years old and never used, still with the tags on them,” Dewsbury says, adding that he’s also finding plenty of buyers on the web. “People are paying more for these than new hats.”



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