By Ryan Ruud
Brendan McCarthy recalls one of his earliest entrepreneurial experiences, when at just nine-years old, young McCarthy spotted opportunity in the potato business.
While living in a small French farming town, the shipping trucks would inevitably miss a few potatoes during the annual harvest; his first transaction was found in gathering these left-behind spuds, only to turn around and sell them back to the townspeople through his ‘potato stand’.
“I think I only made one sale…although it was at a 100% profit margin,” he jokes.
One was all it took for his entrepreneurial spirit to take hold, carrying him from one scheme to another over the years. Some time later, while completing his Masters Degree at the University of Wisconsin Madison, he took his first stab at e-commerce via eBay — seeking to emulate the successes of a friend and roommate.
“Initially, it really was just meant as an experiment to give me a little extra spending money…within six months, our entire apartment was full of random junk with sticky notes posted all over everything so we knew who had sold what and to whom.”
In the fall of 2008, McCarthy picked up a few glass beer boots on the cheap from a nearby liquor store. He recalls haphazardly putting them online one night, heading to bed and waking up to find them sold within a few hours.
“I was working a part time gig with UPS at the time, but had to cut that short because it was then that decided to launch my first standalone site for ‘everything German’ based off that single product line alone. In retrospect, he credits his time with UPS as “Essential learning in small package handling, logistics and distribution,” all necessary skills for managing the 5,000+ Sku’s the site offers today.
One after another
Fast forward four years and McCarthy has expanded his online retail network to include over 40 sites that collectively sold close to $2m in goods in 2010. This network of niche sites, collectively organized as ClickToShop, LLC, now has ten full time employees and is doubling its Roseville space from 6,000 to 12,000 square feet in the coming weeks.
He estimates that 90% of items ship from its own shelves, with just 10% of items being drop-shipped. The company was also recently named to Internet Retailers ‘second list’ of the 501 – 1,000 biggest online retailers nationwide (#890).
“We’ll definitely be applying for next years Inc. 500/1,000,” he says when I mentioned how e-commerce was standing out in Minnesota according to the latest issue.
“In a basic sense, we’ve gotten into the business of online real estate consisting of highly niche domain names backed by solid research and analysis, and I’m ready to break into new markets,” he says describing the science. Yet it remains a tedious and risky business,” he admits, noting how “It takes about 12-18 months for a site to be up and running with good revenue numbers.”
As part of the next phase, he’s exploring all options for growth, including: capitalization, the major re-deployment of a new and highly scalable shopping cart solution, and increasing executive headcount. With 2011’s holiday season quickly approaching, the near term focus is to improve upon years revenue numbers.
“Now it’s pretty much me checking out from the world until Christmas,” he says with an odd intensity, having talked faster than I could think for much of our conversation.