Main Street Mall Online Offers a Homey Place to Sell Online
By Greg Holden
As Dorothy said about her native Kansas in The Wizard of Oz, "there's no place like home." Lora and Steve Henry would agree. When the married couple, owners of Main Street Mall Online, go to work each day, they fix themselves a gourmet coffee in their kitchen, walk down the hall, and sit down at their respective computers in their office, a 10-foot by 12-foot converted bedroom of their home in Hutchinson, Kansas.
When you call the phone number openly posted on the Main Street Mall Online (MSMO) Web site, the phone rings a couple of times, and Steve answers. No answering machine, no "phone tree."
"We've always provided personal service," says Steve, 59. "We have had people say we're crazy to have our phone number on our Web page. We do occasionally get odd sales or crank calls, but most are calls from our own sellers, people who want to get hold of a real person."
Tina Sutherland, proprietor of What-I-Found Vintage & Current Sewing Patterns, one of the storefronts hosted by MSMO (or "mizmo," as Steve calls it), agrees. "Because we are not dealing with a huge corporation, we can ask for special services. When the pattern sellers needed a search feature we were able to explain exactly what we wanted and Steve came up with the best Search Box. Whenever we need personal special help or attention we can get it, from another seller or from Steve and Lora. You can't even get a return phone call from other massive sites."
Like many other marketplaces, MSMO came into being as a result of its owners' unhappiness with eBay. "We were PowerSellers on eBay, and prices started going up," explains Steve. "We looked at what we were paying eBay, and it didn't make a lot of sense to pay those fees, since we earn our entire living on the Internet."
Steve decided to take advantage of extensive technical experience: he has been creating Web sites since the early days of the Web, and has even run Internet Service Providers. He decided to create his own marketplace, MainStreetVintage.com. It went online in 2006 and was the blueprint for many other mini-shopping malls. "Our research told us there was a growing interest in niche market sites," he says. "We built a series of mini-malls, each focusing on other areas, all under the umbrella mall Main Street Mall Online."
The MSMO home page contains links to each of these mini-malls. Click on one, and you get a list of the sellers in each. Currently, the most active malls are the ones that sell sewing and patterns, and movie memorabilia. The largest has about 19,000 items for sale. With only 50 to 100,000 listings at any time, MSMO is small compared to other marketplaces, and that's fine with its owners.
"We want to provide personal service to our sellers, and a base from which sellers can build their business," says Steve. "Our sellers want to be able to run their own business without having the site interfere with them. We provide a framework, including a shopping cart and payment systems, and they handle the transactions themselves."
The Henrys make all of their income from flat-fee storefront rentals. They don't charge sellers listing or final value fees. In fact, if you ask him how much revenue has been generated by sellers on MSMO, he doesn't know. That's up to the sellers to handle. They can list up to 10 items for free. They can list an unlimited number of products in a single mall for $29.99 per month and in multiple malls for $49.99 per month. An ecommerce Web site with a shopping cart and PayPal/Google Checkout is $49.99 for installation and $15.99 per month. A "tri-pak" option that includes a storefront, a blog, and a Web site is $149.99 for installation and $69.99 per month.
Within the basic framework of fixed-price sales (no auctions) and no ending times, MSMO provides sellers with flexibility They can use the shopping cart of their choice, for instance. They can link from sales descriptions to their own website. They have no feedback system to deal with. In fact, Steve is happy with his sellers running multiple marketplaces, all linking to one another, including MSMO.
Lora and Steve sell a few items themselves on MSMO; Steve offers listing templates for eBay sellers as well as custom poems for $49.99 each. But they avoid offering anything for sale that one of their MSMO sellers offers. "We don't want to compete with them. We are committed to our sellers."
The supportive atmosphere extends to other sellers, Tina points out. "At Main Street Mall Online, the sellers are very supportive of each other. For instance when I list a wedding gown I add a link to my fellow seller who makes wedding veils. And she has links to patterns for communion dresses next to her veil listings. That sort of cooperation is good for everybody and Steve and Lora encourage it. For pattern sellers, it's very good to be in a group, we all draw people in and share knowledge. If I don't have a particular pattern or size often somebody else does. That works for the other malls too."
Personal attention is what Tina likes best, however. When she or other sellers need a custom feature like a search box, they know they only need to pick up the phone and call that phone number to ask Steve Henry. But that's the only number they can call. "We don't have cell phones," he admits.
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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