Alibaba offered New Year specials but won’t deliver next week, while Amazon China keeps fulfilling orders in big cities.
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How she did that demonstrates the out-of-the-box thinking that stands an entrepreneur in good stead. Another example: Told by a graduate school date that she was a good kisser, she got to thinking about precisely how that was defined. During study breaks at the library, she did research that turned up virtually no literature on that particular topic- though there was plenty on sex.
“I decided I could become the self-proclaimed expert on kissing because there was none,” she says. “I could write a book about it.” Edmark found a writing coach and wrote the outline of a humorous book on the topic-no small task as she’d been diagnosed as dyslexic in high school. Told she’d need a literary agent, she turned to the phone book to research them and eventually convinced one to take her on. The agent sold the proposal for $7,500. That is where I got my $5,000 for the mold,” Edmark says.
The outcome of that effort, the TopsyTail, a hairstyling tool that turns pony tails inside out, caught the public’s fancy. Retail sales of the product and its licensed derivatives, such as Tyco’s TopsyTail doll, have generated revenue of about $150 million, Edmark says.
As the product life cycle matured, Edmark launched other products-the foldable Halo Hat, for instance-but they didn’t come close to duplicating TopsyTail’s success. While she was working on these other inventions, she married, had a baby and started to hear about the Internet.
“My thesis in graduate school was on videotext technology, a precursor to Internet technology,” she recalls. “I was fascinated by this ability to bring shopping into your home.” And unlike the one-hit wonder of the TopsyTail, she wanted her next business to be sustainable, one she could grow and pass on to her children.
The web frontier
“I thought of the Internet as our generation’s new frontier,” she explains. “It was wild and crazy and there were no rules, and really smart people were moving toward it. I made a decision to figure out a way to get into it.”
It was during this phase that Edmark, while shopping for bras, grew tired of dragging multiple garments into the dressing room to see which necklines covered which bras, and then finding the store didn’t have what she wanted. After polling friends who felt the same way, she decided the Internet could serve up a better lingerie shopping experience than stores. She hired an initial developer to build her e-commerce site and its key features, which she patented before the site went live, and outsourced just about everything else. “I am the queen of outsourcing,” she says “I learned that is how you get a company up and running quickly-you hire instant talent.”
Since launching her first site, HerRoom.com, in 2000, Edmark also has launched HisRoom.com. In growing her business, she has hired a more advanced developer, purchased her own servers and her own warehouse, and added back-end functionality such as tracking from Hitwise and analytics from Coremetrics Inc. HerRoom.com features pages of advice on lingerie fit and style, and in the last few years responses to customer reviews to clarify or supply further information. Features such as online video to supplement still photos and text descriptions of selected products are in the works.
Over time, HerRoom.com has evolved a distinct personality-fun, helpful and informed, all with attitude-attributes borrowed from Edmark herself. “I’m constantly looking to make us unique,” she says. “I think a lot of web sites are looking homogenous, so I look for what will set us apart. I think what people are looking for in the shopping experience is not in-your-face marketing but a little piece of unique information that lets you make a better decision.”