Overstock.com Opens a Virtual Store Dedicated to Small Businesses
BY Peter Vanden Bos
The Main Street Store, launched by Overstock.com in June, partners with U.S. small businesses to sell their products online.
While working as a paramedic sergeant for 25 years, Sue Campbell drank her fair share of bad coffee. So when she retired in 2008, she decided to open Maas Coffee Roasters, a micro-roasterie based in Salt Lake City that sells gourmet, eco-friendly coffee beans.
Campbell soon discovered, however, that starting a self-funded business on her own, as a retiree, was no easy task. "I don't have the financial resources to really develop it," she says. "I don't even have a shopping cart on my website. I contemplate almost monthly selling all my roasting equipment and walking away."
But last week Campbell accepted more orders than she usually receives in an entire month, thanks to Salt Lake City-based online discount retailer Overstock.com. On June 4, Overstock.com launched its Main Street Store, the centerpiece of the company's Main Street Revolution campaign. The purpose of the Main Street Store is to provide U.S. small businesses access to Overstock.com's national marketing and distribution channel. Campbell is now one of the approximately 70 small business owners who have partnered with Overstock to sell their products in the store.
"Setting up your own technology to have a transactional website, to be able to take credit cards, to handle fraud risks and returns—all that stuff is much more expensive than people think," says Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, whose inspiration for the store came from a visit to a group of small and minority-owned businesses in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in February.
"When I met with these small business owners, it made me realize that we could really be promoting their products to customers across the country on Overstock," he says. "In my view, small businesses are the creative part of our economic cycle—they create more than 65 percent of new jobs."
In order to qualify for participation, a business must be U.S. based with 25 or fewer employees, have legal authorization to do business by their state, and have the ability to ship products. Overstock.com will take up to 20 percent of the sales.
The store currently features about 2,500 different products, from Campbell's fresh coffee beans to marble statues, to pendants made of recycled dictionaries sold by Monique Sherman's Fog City Charms, based in Oakland, California.
"It gives me exposure to clients I wouldn't otherwise have," says Sherman, who previously sold her pendants at local fairs and farmers' markets in the Bay Area. "I think it's been a great opportunity for a really small business to compete against larger companies. No one knows if I'm just one person working in my spare bedroom. It gives me a leg up and a chance to compete for customers."
Overstock.com plans to promote the Main Street Revolution through its regular e-mail and online marketing efforts, as well as a part of their national commercials. A link to the Main Street Store can also be found on Overstock.com's home page. Byrne says he hopes to see the store generate up to $50 million in revenue.