For Jacquelyn Tran, whose fascination with fragrances and beauty products dates back to childhood, getting into the family business meant bringing a new sales approach to a traditionally tactile experience -- shopping for perfume and cologne.
Speaking little English, Tran's parents emigrated from Vietnam in 1980, and spent the next 20 years taking their business from Orange County's fabled swap meets to a three-store retail perfume operation and a thriving wholesale business. After graduating from college in 1999 and seeing the selling potential of the Web, Tran used the olfactory experience -- and a $50,000 startup loan -- her parents had given her to launch Perfume Bay, an online store that now boasts more than 800 brands of perfume, cologne, and beauty products. "We had only heard of the Internet being the next big thing," Tran says. "But I didn't doubt that people were going to buy these products over the Internet. We knew we had to make sure the human element was there."
With revenue topping $9 million in 2005, nearly double since 2002, Tran says Perfume Bay has found success by translating the knowledge and customer service of a department-store makeup counter to the Web. Fragrances are described with sommelier-like specificity -- identifying ingredients like Ylang-Ylang and Bergamot -- and the site's offerings include everything from limited-edition scents to designer men's deodorant. Named a "Gold Honoree" by e-commerce watchdog BizRate for the past four years, Perfume Bay has garnered rave reviews from customers -- a number of which are posted on the site. (She has since acquired five other niche fragrance and beauty sites, contributing another $4 million in revenue)
Although she's put aside her dream of developing her own fragrance to focus on the day-to-day demands of her business, Tran remains focused on expansion -- with hopes of eventually opening brick-and-mortar Perfume Bay outlets in California, as well as a full-service hair and beauty salon.
"My goal was that my parents wouldn't have to put in the seven-day work weeks that they used to," she says. "This gives them a lot of pride."