By Christi Milligan
Senior Staff Writer
Data and change. Those are the secrets behind an e-commerce success story whose end-of-year sales projection is in excess of $70 million.
Not bad for a business that started as a kite and toy kiosk in New Orleans 28 years ago. That site is now a simple yogurt stand (owned by someone
else), and E Revolution Ventures Founder and President Stu Eisenman calls it a cautionary tale to kiosk owners everywhere about the value of embracing change and moving forward.
Change is something that Eisenman and his partners know something about. Nearly three decades have passed that 500-square foot booth on the sight of the 1984 World’s Fair. In the interim, growth in the marketplace demanded three successful rebrands of their original toy and kite products, eventually making them available on their website. But it was a 2008 Internet Retailer Conference focused on online sales that shifted their trajectory.
Since 2010, E Revolution Ventures (E stands for “Everything”) has doubled its workforce and is ranked as the seventh fastest-growing e-commerce company in the U.S.
“Our number-one core belief is that we have a responsibility to our partners and our employees to be profitable,”
And it has. Through multiple retail and food ventures and two brick-and- mortar retail stores in Bethany Beach, E Revolution Ventures has never had an unprofitable year. Its website timeline showcases the evolution of the company – a dot-to-dot of intentional, measured change and rebranding.
Today, it bills itself as a data-driven e-commerce company that uses smart algorithms to track and sell millions of products across more than a dozen product categories online, according to its website. In addition, it has five “Think Fast” brands in its line-up— online retail spaces that market items ranging from footwear to hardware and toys, most of which are sold through E Revolutions’ largest partner, Amazon.
“We have the ability to change according to market conditions,” explains Eisenman. “That’s our greatest strength. That’s how we succeed.”
The company recently snagged the #452 spot on the Inc. 500 list – one of just five Delaware companies named to the list. And it’s ranked #359 on the 2014 Internet Retailer Top 500 guide.
But the algorithms and the accolades would never be part of the E Revolution Ventures profile if Eisenman and his partners were fearful of new markets and complicated numbers.
“I’ve been in sales since I was 11 years old and I really understand what it takes to motivate consumer behavior.”
E Revolution Ventures has shattered its own records and expectations in an era where small businesses have struggled.
As the recession crippled small and mid-sized businesses across the country, Eisenman and team also began to experience flagging sales at their Bethany Beach stores. That forced the company to retool its strategy, fortify its relationships with existing vendors and jump on the e-commerce bandwagon. Eisenman admitted that the climate was ripe for this type of growth, with Amazon courting third- party sellers, and the advent of cloud services to affordably house the massive data required for e-commerce retail and tracking data.
The result is grand. In the past five years, sales have grown from an annual $3 million to the projected $70 million. The explosive numbers continue: A March move from a 5,000 square-foot space to a 50,000 square-foot warehouse in the same industrial complex; an employee base that has doubled from 60 in 2012 to 157 today.
That impressive growth is an outward sign of a thriving core. E Revolution Ventures’ business strategy rests in a different group of numbers and information – algorithm-fueled data and rule-based logic that is the heartbeat of the daily operations.
“I’ve always believed in managing the business from the financials,” said Eisenman, who is quick to laud the work of his partners and larger team. “We’re really good about knowing our numbers and reacting our numbers.” Inside their Selbyville warehouse, giant screens track sales data in real time. That critical information is shared with everyone – particularly the company’s 30 different buyers who are trained to adapt to changes in the algorithms on a daily basis and maintain relationships with more than 3,000 vendors.
The company keeps 100,000 in- stock SKUs, or items, but it’s constantly tracking a staggering 20 million items. In what Eisenman refers to as the inverse of normal retail, they take the risk out of buying decisions by tracking the popularity of items and then simply making the decision whether or not to purchase them.
Recent hot sellers have included the Floatron Solar Powered Pool Cleaner and the Kidoozie Pogo Jumper. Eisenman concedes that it’s the data that points to the next “big thing”, and not a sixth sense. In fact, the few times that the team followed their “gut” on
a project – it turned out to be wrong. “We didn’t follow the data,” he said.
“All I have to do with the data and technology is to find the best 100,000 items of that 20 million,” said Eisenman. “It’s a bit like a stock market. It doesn’t seem like a trading floor but internally it is. We use the data to make sure our dollars are invested in the best available products.”
Once they are purchased in bulk, the products are featured on popular retail giants like Amazon and E-bay, and on E Revolution Venture’s own Thinkfast brand sites. Distribution is handled off- site. The company also offers a package of “white glove” services to its vendors aimed at top product positioning – services like product photography, SEO services and Customer Review oversight.
“What’s neat about this and any company that has success is that they find a niche and they continue to work that niche,” said Delaware Economic Development Director Alan Levin. “These guys are leaders; they’re not followers.”
Big numbers for the company are encouraging, and Eisenman admits that E Revolution Ventures is historically a company that’s simply done well. As for the future?
“Global business for us is something that we’re pursuing,” he said. The learning curve is admittedly steeper, forcing Eisenman’s team to be patient as they acquire the infrastructure, cultivate vendor relationships and learn the international market. Already they’ve launched the ThinkFastToys.com stores in Canada and England.
“I think as a company we’ve always done well in whatever market or neighborhood we’ve gone into,” said Eisenman. “We just found a bigger neighborhood and it happens to be the entire world.”