Understanding our digital future
Posted by: In: Blog, Case Studies 24 Nov 2010 0 comments

The Internet is the ultimate machine for marketing “niche” products. Ravi Ratan figured this out early on.

Working in his family’s mulit-generational, custom clothing business, Ravi decided to register Cufflinks.com. For years, the domain sat dormant, until one day Ravi figured he might as well try to sell on the site. So, Ratan went out and bought products at a local retailer and put them on CuffLinks.com. They all sold. Quickly. He bought more, and once again, they all sold. A 21st century sartorial entrepreneur had been born!

These days, Ravi Ratan runs a $5 million a year business selling cuff links online. He’s the largest retail seller of cuff links in the world and sells more than most of his online competitors — combined! In addition to designing and manufacturing his own incredibly creative ones — such as a pair that include usable flash drives (featured GQin and Maxxam magazines) — Ravi sells name-brand products from other fashion designers, and has managed to obtain authorized distribution rights from the NFL, NBA, MLB and a host of NCAA schools.

In a very smart move, Ratan set up the firm so that he sells at every level of the sales channel. What started as an “online only” site has morphed into a small powerhouse selling retail, wholesale, custom, directly to customers, via affiliates, and even drop shipping for companies that don’t want to deal with order fulfillment! In other words, if you have a website, you can buy stock from Ravi wholesale and resell it. However, if you just want to market the products from the Cufflinks.com site, you can do that and CuffLinks.com will fulfill the sale and send you a commission check for your lead! The bottom line: Regardless of whether you want to sell on your own site, a friend’s site, through Facebook, or you want to work with a third-party wedding planning, tuxedo rental or high-end men’s clothing site, Ravi has found a way to help sell cuff links through all of these markets.

When I was growing up, there used to be a TV commercial for Shick razors in which billionaire Victor Kiam says, “I liked the company so much, I bought it.” Well, I’m no billionaire, but after ordering from CuffLinks.com and being impressed, and after meeting Ravi and being further impressed, I decided to invest and am now a proud co-owner! The lesson here, of course, is that no matter how small the product, or how narrow the niche, the Internet provides smart entrepreneurs a platform for reaching customers like we’ve never seen before. Just ask Ravi, who despite his incredible talent and penchant for hard work, always keeps his sleeves rolled down, not rolled not up — because you never miss an opportunity to market CuffLinks!

Becoming “slightly famous” isn’t a prerequisite for success, but it is one path to it, and social media has made it more accessible than ever before. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s available to anyone with a computer without a huge expense.

Author David Garland has interviewed some 200 entrepreneurs for his web and TV show, The Rise to the Top. He recently highlighted 13 unique entrepreneurs who have used online content via social media to build their brands and their businesses. If you’re interested in that as part of your path to success, I think you’ll find them both inspiring and informative:

1. Chris Brogan discusses how he built his business around his blog. (parts 2, 3 and 4)

2. Ali Brown started with an e-zine and shows us how she built a multi-million dollar empire.

3. Online influencer Sarah Evans shares the inside story of her rise.

4. Gary Vaynerchuk shares how he built, marketing and monetized Wine Library TV.

5. Youthologist Vanessa Van Petten shares how she built her Radical Parenting brand.

6. Personal branding specialist Dan Schawbel shares how he created his personal branding empire.

7. Founder of the extremely successful Small Biz Trends Anita Campbell shares her rise to the top.

8. Timothy Sykes makes over 1.3 million dollars a year blogging about investing. Here is how he does it.

9. Josh Shipp shares how he dominates the youth market as a speaker and content creator.

10. Adventure Girl Stefanie Michaels tells her story about how she has nearly 1.5 MILLION followers on Twitter and has built a brand around her love for travel.

11. Show host, entrepreneur and author Amber Mac talks about starting podcasts, shows and building her brand.

12. The founder of Duct Tape Marketing John Jantsch shares his rise to success.

13. David Heinemeier Hansson discusses how 37 Signals built a blog before a product.