Internet Start-Up Sees Gold Mine in Silver Sales

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SilverAgent.com will launch next month with a targeted six-month, business-to-business campaign aimed at drawing silver dealers and their inventory to the Web site.


Although dealers have been slow to use the Internet, more than half of the 24,000 antique dealers worldwide that carry silver inventory have flocked to the site's chief competitor, eBay.com.


The silver market is estimated to be a more than $1 billion industry. According to the Purdue Research Group, Nashville, TN, 85 percent of the industry does not have a Web presence. Instead, they have looked to sites such as BeverlyBremer.com, Replacements.com, Silverforsale.com and eBay, which is the leader in the space with 55 percent of silver dealers having bought or sold items using the auction site, according to Perdue.


The goal of SilverAgent's campaign is to clear a space for itself as the new market leader among dealers, said Susannah Brown, president of SilverAgent, Nashville. "Initially, we're going to have to distinguish ourselves from eBay. This isn't a garage sale-type site," she said. "We're building the network of knowledgeable dealers. It's not somebody selling their grandmother's tea set."


One of the site's first marketing efforts will be a wedding-themed direct mail campaign. A humorous invitation from an imaginary bride-to-be's mother will be mailed to 4,000 dealers on Aug. 1. It will plead with dealers to R.S.V.P. for the daughter's wedding at the site, offering a $1,000 cash prize sweepstakes open to all who respond before Sept. 1.


A 4,000-piece follow-up mailing recapping the ceremony will be sent Sept. 1, and a bride's thank-you note will be mailed Oct. 1.


"We're wrapping a story around the marketing message so we have an excuse to touch people over a period time with that story," said Tim Richardson, vice president of strategic marketing at Weberize, the Nashville-based interactive firm that created the campaign. The list was purchased from the American List Counsel. Mailings will go to global dealers in more than 16 cities, including New York, Paris and Tokyo.


Every month, beginning Sept. 1, dealers who register at the site will be entered to win a monthly $1,000 prize. Dealers can earn additional entries by referring other dealers, making a purchase in excess of $500 or uploading 50 items into the site's online catalog.


The goal behind the sweepstakes is that "even though they might conceptually see the value proposition of the site, we thought they might need an extra incentive to go online and try the service," said Richardson.


Beginning Aug. 1, the site will send a weekly e-mail to post wanted items, encourage members to ask other dealers to join and to promote its sweepstakes and contests. E-mail lists in the silver industry are hard to come by, according to Richardson.


"We will basically have to harvest e-mail addresses through the direct marketing campaign and trade show appearances," he said. "It's something we have to build quickly."


The site plans to have a booth at many of the industry trade shows, such as the Antiques Show in Chicago and the International Fine Arts Show in New York.


A three-month consecutive run of a four-color print ad will appear in three industry trade magazines -- Silver Magazine, Maine Antique Digest and The Magazine Antiques -- beginning in September. Classified ads will also run in Martha Stewart Living, Southern Living, Traditional Home and a number of local trade publications beginning Aug. 1. A public relations push will begin July 24 as well.


Once the site has accumulated a significant inventory, it plans to launch a consumer campaign.
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