Fairfield County Business Journal, December, 2005 -- The heat is on: shoppers warm up to online store site. (www.HotWebHoldings.com ) (TheHotMall.com) (Interview)
A few years ago, Bob Glaser decided he was tired of winter and snow and moved to Florida, where he bought a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop, re-branded it Cone-Heads and made plans to create a Cone-Heads franchise.
"The franchise environment wasn't right," Glaser said, "so I sold it last year." And, "like most people from the Northeast who move down to Florida, I came back."
He came to Newtown with another business--the third in which he has been involved in the past 11 years. This business, however, fits into a computer in Glasers' home office. It's called The Hot Mall, an Internet-based business (www.TheHotMall.com) that links to more than 800 retailers--more than competitor Shopping.com's 600 retailers, which eBay recently purchased for $780 million. "It just blew me away," Glaser said of that purchase price.
Those 800 retailers aren't mom-and-pops in Sheboygan. They include such retailing giants as Macy's, The Home Depot and Old Navy. "We just added Radio Shack and Legal Seafood of Boston this week and hope to add Nordstrom's soon," he said.
On the other end of the Internet, online shoppers are beginning to discover The Hot Mall's one-stop shopping, averaging "hundreds of thousands of hits a month," he said. "We're looking at a 50 percent growth each year over the next three to five years, just for The Hot Mall," he said.
"Just to give you an idea of revenue growth, our Black Friday sales this year were up about 28 percent from Black Friday sales last year," he said.
In the vanguard
Glaser is not new to online shopping. He was on its cutting edge back in the mid-'90s after he opened a brick-and-mortar retail shop in New Hope, Pa., where they sold gargoyle statuary and other large and small architectural elements. "It's a huge market," he said. "It surprised even me." In 1995, a year after opening, he created a Web site for the business, mostly as an advertisement but then for online sales. "We were able to put together the infrastructure necessary to do it and we were in the very forefront of selling on the Web."
By the time he sold the business in 2003, "the Web accounted for nearly 60 percent of the business," he said. "It had almost grown into a second business itself."
The Glaser's took their earnings and moved to Florida with toddler Alexa in tow, where he almost immediately began thinking about creating an Internet-based business "because I wanted to be able to travel and still operate the business from wherever I was."
He wanted a vehicle where retailers could sell their entire line and where he was basically a portal for them. The beauty of his idea was that "I wasn't handling the merchandise, fulfillment and shipping was their business."
For the next year Glaser struggled to convince retailers to become part of his online mall. "It wasn't easy. It was difficult at first to get the big names to sign on. What eventually happened was that I reached a critical point of about 200 retailers and I was able to say, 'I've got all your competitors, so why aren't you here?" Large retailers wanted to be convinced The Hot Mall would create more than mere hits. "They want to see that you're sending them sales."
Glaser said he averages about 2 percent sales on the hundreds of thousands of hits each month. Retailers pay him between 6 percent and 15 percent of the
sales, which are tracked and recorded through sophisticated software programs. "Everything you do online is traceable, so they know where the link is coming from," he said.
Once Glaser created The Hot Mall, he couldn't seem to stop. He created Hot Web Holdings Ltd. (www.HotWebHoldings.com), then began stuffing more and more Web sites into it, everything from Red Hot Travel (www.RedHotTravel.com) and The Hot Real Estate Mall (www.HotRealEstateMall.com) to Hot Car Sales (www.HotCarSales.net)--"about 60 Web sites," he estimates, that result in "millions of hits" each month. "I'm trying to create the HOT brand."
When he adds all the sites together and looks about five years into the future, revenues could be "a couple of million dollars," he said.
"They all run themselves," Glaser said of the growing list of Web sites. "Our biggest hurdle is to get the name out." For now, he's concentrating on pay-per-click ads, where an ad appears when an online shopper types in a keyword that Glaser has bid on. "Some key words you bid pennies on, some dollars. Every time somebody clicks on that, Yahoo or Google get their money"--and The Hot Mall gets a potential customer.
One reason Glaser is certain he will succeed is what he saw Black Friday morning at the new Best Buy in Danbury. "I was shocked at how many people were waiting in line for it to open," he said. "The line went around the building and you couldn't get near the building to park because the lot was full."
It shouldn't take many days like that, Glaser reasons, before shoppers begin staying home to do their holiday shopping at his electronic mall. "Online shopping really has become more mainstream," he said.
STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS
Bob Glaser, HotWebHoldings.com, Newtown.
Education: Bachelor's degree in accounting with a minor in business from Roger Williams College in Rhode Island.
Family: Daughter, Alexa, 3.
Q. What's the most important piece of advice you've received that helped in your career?
A. "The most important advice was from my father. He said that when you make a business deal, stand behind it. I have a very good reputation. If you're doing business with me, it's on the up and up, no games."
Q. What's the hardest part of doing your job?
A. "Staying on top of the new technology and constant innovation on the Internet. I have to sort through what's new, what's hot and what works."
Q. What do you do to unwind?
A. "Travel and spend time with my daughter."