Web provides career reboot

//September 18, 2009

Web provides career reboot

//September 18, 2009

Low barriers to entry make an e-business launch an attractive plan amid economic struggleFinding opportunity in the current clime may require searching unusual business landscapes for prospects. Mark Csordos, an NJBIZ 40 Under 40 winner from years past whose career has since hit several potholes, believes his newest venture, FirstPlaceBaseball.com, will be his shot at a return to the big leagues through a new approach on the Web.

Csordos, 38, launched his e-tailer of hard-to-find baseball memorabilia this summer after losing his manager’s job at Sports Authority’s Piscataway location last December, though the idea for the site came to him prior to being laid off.

A business owner prior to his stint with Sports Authority, Csordos said the layoff revived his entrepreneurial spirit: “It was a blessing in disguise.”

Csordos runs FirstPlace from his Keyport home, where he sells more than 2,500 items such as DVDs of World Series games and team-branded watches, primarily items that he said cannot be purchased at local stores. He expects to turn a profit in 2010.

Operating the virtual business from home saved Csordos overhead and other costs related to setting up a separate store, “one of the reasons I haven’t considered a retail site,” he said.

Csordos said he promotes FirstPlace by visiting baseball card shows and games to give fans a taste of merchandise available through his Web site. In July, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Delaware-based affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, let him set up shop at a home game. The team “gave us a free table on the concourse, and we talked directly to the customers,” he said.

Other entrepreneurs have taken to this digital cottage industry. Judy Cronin, founder of Cronin & Co., in East Hanover, said she decided three years ago to transition from editing and writing newsletters to producing greeting cards. She sells her greeting cards through her Web site, www.croninandcompany.com, a venture that began after one of her newsletter clients asked her to produce a holiday card.

“The Internet is a perfect place to shop for something specialized,” she said. “I’d probably be too small a category for a retailer to take on.”

Albert Wu, founder of Silkfair LLC, in Warren, said it has become easier for entrepreneurs to launch e-tailing businesses, leading some to part ways with previous careers. “Many people want to take control of their destiny,” he said.

Silkfair.com serves as host for individual e-tailers to create online stores for varying fees. “There is a low barrier of entry for people to get started online,” he said. A few years ago, Wu said, getting a Web site launched required the services of designers and computer coders. Services such as Silkfair simplify the digital labor by offering ready-to-go platforms for online shops.

Csordos is not a Silkfair user, but neither is he new to running a business. FirstPlace is a return to entrepreneurship for him after founding C&S Mystery Shoppers, in North Brunswick, in 1995. As an “undercover inspector,” Csordos and his mystery shoppers would anonymously shop at stores on behalf of management and report back on the experience.

His success with C&S won Csordos acclaim as a member of the class of 1998’s 40 Under 40, but the glamour would not last. Trying to tackle every task himself caused more headaches than helped with the mystery shopping business, he said.

When Csordos sold C&S in 1999, he wound up in a legal spat with the buyers, with each side claiming it was owed money after the deal was done. The parties settled out of court, Csordos said.

With the past behind him, Csordos said he hopes to expand his latest business by hiring more sales reps to support additional Web sites; he welcomes the extra legwork of getting his e-business off the ground, hoping this will be his next home run. “It’s time consuming, but it pays off,” he said.

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