Online retail opens doors for 'Three's Company' star

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Actress Suzanne Somers has used her celebrity to debut a direct-sell online company called Suzanne. Consumers can buy the star's line of products or start their own franchise.

The new Web sites use the name Suzanne Somers, star of the '70s television show "Three's Company" and the infomercials for ThighMaster, to target consumers of beauty products and those looking to evangelize the line.

"Our first line of communication was to existing Suzanne customers and fans through e-mails," said Robin Crossman, president of Suzanne, Grand Rapids, MI. "We also utilized conference calling, Internet advertising, trade and popular media advertising, opportunity meetings, expos and we held our first National Consultant Training to coincide with Suzanne's show in Las Vegas last November."

The new sites at http://www.suzanne.com/ and http://www.suzanne24.com/ - the first for consumers, the second for consultants - feature more than 100 different Suzanne Somers branded products.  Suzanne.com sells beauty supplies, food, jewelry and accessories.

In the tradition of a Tupperware-party-meets-an-eBay store, the Suzanne24 site encourages consumers to turn consultant, with all the information needed to set up a Suzanne-specific business, like throwing a party, designing promotions and flyers, and answering questions about products. Consultants are given a Suzanne personal consultant Web site, free for a year with their kit.

Business kits contain a combination of products, catalogs, host party planners, order forms, a training DVD, a consultant manual, script cards, invitations, thank-you cards, brochures and a tote bag.

Other well-known brands have recently used their celebrity to sell products over the Internet. Playboy recently launched a new fashion line, which bypasses retail stores and is only available at the e-commerce sites http://www.shopthebunny.com/ and http://www.playboystore.com/. Like Suzanne Somers, the Playboy brand has a long history of popularity among consumers.

Jamus Driscoll, vice president of marketing at Demandware, Woburn, MA, the e-commerce platform that powers the Playboy online store, said that this is a trend.

"One thing that we are seeing that is indicative across all retail is that if you have a great brand, you don't have to have a bricks-and-mortar store," he said. "You can skip it and go straight to having a good e-commerce site."

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