TALKING TO A NICHE MARKET
Byline: Holly Haber
DALLAS — One-to-one service on the Internet can be a time-consuming affair, but it works. That’s what Karen Klutznik found at whosthefairest.com, her quirky Chicago-based beauty Web site. In the past 18 months, Klutznik has built a a thriving niche business specializing in little-known brands by showering her e-guests with lots of attention. And she said her Web site is profitable, with about $500,000 in sales projected this year.
“I’ve tried to be so intensely personal, to create a site that I would want to shop at,” Klutznik said. And she’s done it while keeping her full-time job as vice president of marketing for Thomas J. Klutznik, the family real estate development firm. “In total I have invested $50,000. I work my ass off from six in the morning ’till midnight. The site completely supports itself, my employee and its own inventory.”
One main draw is the irreverent charm of Fig Funston, Klutznik’s Internet alter ego and site proprietor, who presides as a self-proclaimed “bossy big sister.” Since the site launched in August 1999, Fig has responded to each and every e-mail from clientele, happily offering advice on skin care and color selections. The weighty correspondence load is now shared by Klutznik’s sole employee, who also takes care of shipping, and has been lightened somewhat by the creation of an on-site message board useful for exchanging information en masse.
Packed with lively background information about the lines, the site sells makeup brushes, bath, hair and sun products as well as color and treatment by a small but international group including Annemarie Borlind of Germany, Anna Carera from Italy, Japonesque and Pola from Japan, and domestic labels La Bella Donna, Peter Thomas Roth, American Vitamin Company, 2 Grrrls, Spa2O and Perfect Perfumes by Sara Horowitz. Many of the lines have natural botanical or mineral ingredients.
The sassy attitude of the site’s copy (“Pick something already!”) combined with Fig’s attention to every electronic communication has earned an intense following. The site logged about 100 hits a day in the beginning, but now typically racks up 10 times that number. And 70 percent of customers who order will come back to buy again, she asserted.
“My customers are smarty-pants — interesting articulate women,” Klutznik noted. “They end up forming a relationship with me, and they know I won’t buy stuff for the site that I haven’t tried or that I think sucks. If enough people don’t like a product I will drop it. They know that I will say it, and it’s OK for them to say it back to me. But if we love something, we say that too. It’s like a slumber party.”
Klutznik has been fascinated by cosmetics since she was a child, and her expertise comes from years of experimenting. She started whosthefairest.com as a hobby during a lull at her main job. Even though things are heating up again, Klutznik continues to shoot every photo and write every word that appears on the site. She’s also developed her own line of color, bath and skin care products with the WTF logo; its lipsticks and eyeshadows are the site’s top sellers.
Besides her daily responses to queries, Klutznik keeps in touch with clients through chatty monthly electronic newsletters that tout new products and gift-with-purchase specials. She does no advertising but lures new customers through links with major search engines.
Despite the failure of other, well-financed beauty dot-coms, Klutznik isn’t worried about the future of her site.
“The big dot-coms and people financing them forgot for a second what a business model looked like,” she observed. “They just threw money at people who knew how to get on the Internet. My friends suggested I apply for money but I didn’t feel like answering to anybody else. I’m not retiring off it yet and I still need my other job to sustain my income and lifestyle, but it’s been awesome.”