When Online Shops Move Offline

Tara Mediate didn’t believe in the Internet. She wasn’t exactly web savvy and more than that, she doubted that the online world had much, if anything, to offer in terms of business value. But when it came time to launch her own company in 2004, she decided to give the Internet a chance.

Together with her husband Joe and another associate, Tara launched KooKoo Bear Kids, a popular retail company that promises one-stop shopping for parents looking to buy high-end clothes, toys, furniture and more. In the beginning, however, there was no shop to speak of, no store window to peer into, just a website and a catalogue that they mailed out to customers. And if Tara had it her way, there would have just been the catalogue.

“It was my husband’s idea to launch the site. He believed that a lot of people were too busy to talk on the phone,” she said in an interview with MainStreet. “Personally, my background is retail, not the web, but my husband was a web person so he was really driving the web site.”

The couple had decided early on not to open a brick and mortar store in order to lower their overhead costs and forego the trouble of staffing it. They wanted to just keep things simple, and for a couple years it worked. Mediate oversaw the products they put out as well as the catalogue, and let her husband play around with their website. “I didn’t concentrate that much on the site and putting new products on it partly because I didn’t think it would be as powerful as it is today,” she said. “I just didn’t think people would make large purchases on it which is not true. It was kind of a learning curve for me.”

By 2006, the site had helped attract a strong cult following for the business. In fact, customers would turn up outside their warehouse in Roswell, Georgia in hopes of getting a glimpse of their products off the computer screen. “We had so many local customers saying they wanted to come and see and feel and pick up the product,” Mediate said. This, combined with the fact that the only other designer children’s store in their town had recently shut down, led them to finally take the plunge and open up a retail store.

In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about companies that are trying to use the Internet to promote themselves and reach new audiences, but some businesses have successfully done the reverse. For entrepreneurs like Mediate, the Internet essentially serves as a forum to sample and grow your business before you invest tens of thousands of dollars to rent out or buy a physical space. Plus, before you even open the doors of your new store, you’ll have to doll out money for office supplies and decorations, staffers to man the place, liability insurance to protect them and property insurance to protect the building itself.