Source: Yahoo! Small Business Insights | June 2005

Joseph Tantillo, owner of, an online retailer of fraternity and sorority merchandise, has always followed his instincts. After starting a successful screen printing and graphic design business, he got the inspiration for his next endeavor in the most unlikely of places.

"My wife was pregnant, and we were at her obstetrician's office," he says. "I was in the waiting room and flipping through a magazine and I saw an ad for Yahoo!'s online stores. Everything just sort of clicked in my mind at once, and as soon as we got home, I got started."

Tantillo, a member of a fraternity while in college, believed the market for fraternity and sorority merchandise was ripe, so that night he signed up for Yahoo! Merchant Solutions and used Yahoo! Store Editor to create the first version of his site.

"Using Store Editor was great for the first version of the site," he says. "I didn't have any web design experience, but I had it up and running in a matter of hours. It's very easy to use - I've been at this for six years and I still don't know HTML."

As the store evolved, Tantillo enlisted the help of design firm Solid Cactus to improve the site's design and functionality. grew more successful, and under his company Express Design Group, Tantillo opened up four additional Yahoo! Stores -,,, and - all of which cater to specific markets.

Keys to Success: Finding a Niche and a Positive Attitude

Tantillo says that the path to success, especially for novice online retailers, is to distinguish yourself in a crowded marketplace. The best way to accomplish this is to:

Find a niche market. "I think it's important to have a niche in the online retail space because it positions you as an expert," he says. "You also stand out on search engines, because you don't have as many competitors using the same keywords or SEO techniques as you, which will help you get that top-10 search ranking."

Research your target market. Before starting any online store, research your target market to make sure the customer base is there. "I researched the Greek market, and I quickly found out how passionate they were about their organizations," Tantillo says. "They really care about being a part of it, so when you create one-of-a-kind merchandise with their logos on it, they'll buy it."

Have a positive attitude. "We think the Internet should be fun and shopping should be easy, so we do our best to make our customers feel that way," says Tantillo. "We don't confine them to minimum orders, and we offer customization for all of our products to make sure they get what they want. It's that kind of positive attitude that keeps people coming back."

What Works: Paid Search, Email Marketing, and Link Building

Tantillo recommends that small business owners build links with affiliate companies and use paid search and email advertising to develop their online presence. "You really have to be proactive in terms of marketing to be successful," he says.

Paid search. Paid search generates more traffic for than any of the site's other online marketing techniques. Study your keywords and convert and change words as needed. "We use Yahoo! Search Marketing to manage our paid search endeavors," Tantillo says. "We really pay attention to the keywords we're using. Every month we check what our converting words are and update them accordingly."

Email marketing. "Email marketing can be very effective if you do it right," he also says. "People don't want their inbox to be filled with email ads all the time, so you have to be careful to not send them out too often. We usually send an email promotion out once a month, and we usually see a 50 percent increase in orders for that day."

Link building. Tantillo also employs link-building strategies to make more visible. "We joined Commission Junction to take part in an affiliate program, and that's worked well for us, too," he says. It's important to take the time to do it right and find the right affiliates, though. You want your links to be on relevant sites."

Moving Forward

Tantillo plans to continue growing his business by opening more online stores. "My goal is to open one Yahoo! Store per year. The key will be to identify new niche markets and tailor the merchandise we sell to the needs of those markets."

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