Saturday, March 03, 2007

BeerBelly.Com - The Artificial Beer Belly Business

Books Lambert, who runs as president of Under Development Inc., is also someone who might have been viewed by some as having a less-than-perfect business model for his venture. But — after the press picked up on his contraption and he got 1 million hits to his fledgling site, as well as about 80 calls from offline media, including CNN and the like — he sold his electronics company, turned toward inventing full-time and his beer belly is jiggling as he laughs all the way to the bank.

Lambert also uses a potent mix of marketing savvy and passion, spiced with some serendipity, to run his site. The Beerbelly, by the way, is a neoprene bag that fits under a shirt and can be used to avoid paying $9 for drafts at sporting events.

"Honestly, I didn't think I was inventing a product," says Lambert. "I'm a closet inventor, my buddy's an industrial designer, and one day we're hanging out drinking beer and I have teen-age kids and I was saying how they're awesome, not like me, who went to games with beers in my socks. So we were goofing around talking about how to sneak beer into places and I'm a surfer so I cut up a wet suit and stuffed a water back-pack into it and we're joking around about how it looks like a beer belly. It was just a fun afternoon."

They enlisted the help of a friend, who saw one of them wearing the prototype at a party, and refined the design. "We decided to put up a Web site to see what happened. I sent one e-mail to Gizmodo saying, 'Hey, take a look at this.' They did a huge thing and it got picked up by the press and we had 3 million hits in two days."

What ensued was a "brutal six months" of handling the traffic, orders and fulfillment, but eventually Lambert arranged for an overseas manufacturer to make his Beerbelly. His site now gets anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 to 100,000 unique visitors a day depending on the season and press coverage.

In regard to launching a niche site, it does, however, pay to do your homework once you've identified your passion, by following best-practice market research. This includes searching to see what competition already exists, testing key words, calculating an estimated profit margin by figuring how much it costs to make your product and operate a Web shop, and finally, by giving out free samples to get feedback.

"Our market testing," says Lambert, "was to build 100 samples, put together a survey and give it out to friends for their input. There's no way we'd be here without word-of-mouth and blogs and news sites. The cheapest thing is to just put it up on the Internet and see what happens next."

Now that things have settled down, Lambert just completed a redesign on his site because the navigation, while cool, was horribly confusing. He showed it to people in coffee shops and based on feedback, made a cleaner, less cluttered layout.

And while he admits he's now trying to learn the nuts and bolts of e-commerce, search engine marketing and such, he's not about to make it all work and no play. "We're trying to develop a sense of community at the site where you can post your own videos and have a lot of fun with silly ideas for ads," says Lambert. "We'll put some videos at YouTube. Our marketing concept is more about giving things an opportunity to grow, plant the seeds and see what happens instead of jamming things down people's throats."

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