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Internet sales reveal extra opportunities

By Ashley Crawford

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The Internet provides new opportunities for the expansion of businesses, and for a Mississippi woman's hair-bow business, the benefits come in the shape of dollar signs.

Darlene Seals began selling hair bows from the trunk of her car in her North Mississippi hometown of Holly Springs in 1991. Today, her business has expanded to the Internet with the help of Mississippi State University's Extension Service.

"About two years ago, I tried to put my business on the Internet, but it didn't work very well," Seals said. "Then, Mississippi State came, and what they did for me was incredible."

Beth Duncan, small business specialist with MSU's Extension Service, met Seals 10 years ago during an entrepreneur workshop.

"After the workshop, Darlene asked me to come to her home and offer my advice. When she opened the front door, it was an explosion of colors," Duncan said. "Hair bows were everywhere."

Duncan said the hair bows needed no improvement, so Seals began selling her bows in shopping malls and traveling to arts and crafts shows in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.

This past summer, Seals' business, C.J.'s Place, was selected as part of Duncan's study on e-commerce and entrepreneurship.

"Only 20 percent of small businesses make it past 10 years," Duncan said. "Darlene made it past that critical hump and that was one of the reasons she became part of this study."

Duncan and Seals shared the goal of expanding the business to e-commerce. Together, they developed www.cjsbows.com that began in August 2001.

Within the first 60 days of operation, the website, www.cjsbows.com, generated more than $2,000 in revenue.

"Since the website began, I have experienced a 40 percent increase in business," Seals said. "The most difficult part is making enough bows to be delivered quickly."

Seals receives orders from states outside Mississippi, including Texas and Pennsylvania and even as far away as Japan. This year marked her first order ever placed during the month of January.

"Sales are low following Christmas, but now having my business on the Internet even improves my slow months," Seals said. "This is awesome to me."

Duncan said Seals is a smart entrepreneur who's sensitivity to her customers' needs is a huge aspect of her success.

"The Internet is customer-driven but can be very impersonal," Duncan said. "However, Darlene keeps in touch with her customers to ensure satisfaction."

Seals continues to make her custom hair bows for children, cheerleaders, dance teams and pets with the help of her mother from the comfort of her home. On average, Seals makes 600 bow each day.

"I am still traveling to arts and crafts shows, but I take a few months off at the beginning of the year to build up my stock," Seals said.

Beginning March 1, Seals will travel to shows each weekend until December.

"Since expanding my business, I have realized my dream and know this is what I am supposed to do for the rest of my life," Seals said. "It is hard work, but I have no plans to retire."

Seals, 44, says although bills are motivation, her deep faith in God keeps her going.

"It's just amazing," she said. "I don't know how my business could get any bigger."

-30-

Released: Feb. 11, 2002
For more information, contact:
Dr. Beth Duncan, (662) 325-2160

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