Source: Entrepreneur Magazine• November, 2004

On a Shoestring
An e-tailer that sells fraternity and sorority clothing and accessories

What: An e-tailer that sells fraternity and sorority clothing and accessories
Who: Joseph Tantillo of
Where: Freeburg, Illinois
When: Started in 1999
How Much: $79.95

Reading a business magazine in the doctor's office inspired Joseph Tantillo to try his hand at online retailing. At the time, he and his wife were expecting their first child and wanted to work from home. An article about starting an online store jumped out at him, he recalls—and, as a member of a fraternity in college, he decided to sell personalized Greek apparel to that market.

After setting up shop for just $79.95—the cost of a merchant account with Yahoo!— he began researching what kind of products his former fraternity brothers might like. Tantillo then located suppliers who would work with him on a drop-ship basis and began selling. He opened his online doors in May of 1999 and had his first three sales by June.

He and his wife moved into a farmhouse owned by their family so they didn't have to worry about a mortgage. That gave Tantillo the freedom to go full time and research the market. "I spent a lot of time online—hours, all through the night—e-mailing people about linking to our website, e-mailing people about our products, asking friends for criticism and suggestions," says Tantillo, 36.

His persistence helped him become the preferred vendor for a few national Greek organizations. Tantillo then secured partnerships that would allow him to advertise on their websites in exchange for a sales commission to the organizations for every click-through purchase.

Using the strong Greek network worked, as he's built's yearly sales to $1.9 million. In addition, the company recently moved into its own 5,000-square-foot facility, complete with its own screening, embroidery and printing equipment. With success like this, Tantillo's frat brothers should be proud.