New Series Alert: 5-Year Old Conceives (Charitable!) E-Commerce Site

new ecommerce siteYou know the tide of commerce is turning when a six-year old can come up with an e-business idea and it’s, well, good.

Bethany Sawyer was your average five-year-old (now six) who loved to draw, when she came up with an idea for how she could turn her art into a proper business. Ok, so admittedly, she wasn’t really the one pushing a business concept, but because her parents owned Image76, a printing and mailing company in Massachusetts, she thought, why can’t we print my artwork and my friends’ artwork on shirts and sell them…and give some proceeds to charity? Doesn’t every toddler think like this?

Perhaps not. But with advancements in technology, children are becoming more savvy about how the world of commerce works. Computers, iPads, iPhones and the like are changing the way children learn, and in some cases, like Bethany’s, it can be the kids, not the parents, who get the business moving.

The Giving Goose is an online store that sells clothing and gifts bearing the artwork of children like Bethany, and invites other children to submit their own art. A judging panel votes on the art and the winners’ pieces are screen printed on various clothing and gifts and made available for sale. The final site, launched September 1, 2011, is a combination of Bethany’s idea and her parents’ business acumen. Although her parents have run their successful printing business for more than a decade, they had a lot to learn about the world of online commerce as they dove headfirst into the site.

Unexpected Hurdles

new ecommerce site

“There was a huge learning curve,” said Nancy Sawyer, Bethany’s mom. She and her husband often found themselves asking their partners, “What do you mean you can’t make it work like that?”

The Sawyer’s worked with a local ecommerce provider called Design Principles to help create the site and see through Bethany’s vision. One very important aspect would be the link between the purchase and the charities. Having worked with several non-profits, Bethany has charity in her blood and wanted to make sure she was giving back. So one request was that rather than having a coupon code, as many e-commerce sites do, the site would have a “Giving Code,” which would be a drop down menu where customers could choose the charity to which they would donate. Ten percent of the proceeds from each purchase are set to go to said charity, per the Sawyer’s business plan. But this was not an easy task and took time to figure out. Still, the Sawyer’s were pleased with their partners’ ability to work through the challenge.

The Big Online Marketing Challenge

Image76 has been a successful business for Nancy and her family, but much of that success has come from word-of-mouth and referrals. That’s how she gets new clients. In the online world, she found herself on a small ship in a very, very large sea.

“Coming from a background where it’s been lots of face to face sales and connections – that part is not nearly as difficult,” said Nancy. “But to take that leap into a big cyberspace online thing and figure out how to make a connection with a consumer…I didn’t realize it would be so hard.”

Still, Nancy is confident that The Giving Goose is in the right place. While she had thought about wholesaling the clothes, she came to the conclusion that the brand and the idea, not just the product, really belonged in front of the consumer.

Next Steps

The Sawyers are excited by the challenges that await them and are currently interviewing for additional help with some of the activities that will surround the business. Nancy says she also is excited to learn more about what she doesn’t know, since the online world is one packed with ideas and knowledge that doesn’t exist in the offline retail space. SEO is one thing she will be reading up on, as well as how to more seamlessly integrate her partnerships with non-profit organizations who will benefit from products sold on the site.

In the end, she wants to stay true to Bethany’s vision: to let kids be famous for a day when their original artwork lands on a shirt, and more importantly, to help others when those pieces are sold.

This is the first of our monthly new online retailer series, where we will be profiling a new(ish) online retailer and/or new technology for multi-channel retail. If you have any ideas for us, please feel free to send along as your idea of a great new online retailer might be the next feature! Send all ideas, questions, etc., to