Tucked away at the end of a nondescript residential street in Sylvan Lake are a couple of nondescript warehouses. The sign on the awning out front reads, “Niche Retail. Everything but the brand.”
And when you buy something from suuntowatches.com, or joggingstroller.com, or any one of 25 or so other Web sites, you’re dealing with Niche Retail.
The growing company handles e-commerce fulfillment for a wide variety of niche markets and individual product manufacturers. It will be responsible for about $17 million in e-commerce this year, and has 53 employees.
The company was founded by Tyler Smith and Brad Sorock in 2001. Smith had earlier run a multimedia development company, 3D New Media. Before that, he had tried to run a “virtual courtroom” training company for lawyers, and before that he was in law school at Ohio State.
But eventually, Smith said, he “determined that not only did I not want to be a lawyer, I didn’t even want to work with lawyers.” Hence, 3D New Media. Smith said he left that company because “everyone was trying to get into new media, so there was no profit to be made in that space — there were way more development firms than there was business. I told them e-commerce was the way to go, they disagreed, so I left and started Niche Retail.”
Smith had designed an e-commerce store earlier for Sorock — a fly fishing and skiing shop out of Colorado — so Sorock became his partner in Niche Retail.
“He came up with the idea to come up with a niche Web site around a single product,” Smith said. “The first site was Suuntowatches.com, and it was an instant success. The Internet at the time was for everyone to get into the dot-mall concept, building category crushers that carried every product under the sun. We decided to have Web sites that carry one product but does it really well.”
Their second site, joggingstroller.com, came about because both Smith and Sorock had young children. “That’s a narrow vertical category rather than a brand, but we found the same need in the marketplace — a product not available locally that people were searching for,” Smith said.
Today, Niche Retail occupies the former headquarters of HoMedics, with shelves stacked with everything from baby seats to strollers. A secure area stores the watches. Several customer care areas have staffers answering customer questions and handling warranty claims, over phone, e-mail and live chat.
Looking ahead, Smith and “minister of the interior” (okay, that translates as operations manager) Jeff Grice plan on continuing to upgrade Niche Retail’s technology.
“Over the past three or four years, accessibility to great technology has changed drastically,” Smith said. “We’re changing our tech systems to modernize them, moving to open source, and also bringing that technology to our partners. We’re enterprise partner to a company called Magento, the leading open source e-commerce solution. Want to partner with the brands, help them go direct, but with these open source products vs. proprietary technologies.”
Overall, Smith said “we expect to double number of Web sites we’re managing in next three years.”
More at www.nicheretail.com.
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