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E-Commerce Model Faces Off Solo Practitioners With Consumers

It might be possible to sell any service on the Internet.

People who would like to drop an inch here or tuck a layer there can investigate their body-modification options online. And one Web company is rolling out a site over the coming quarter that will make physician referrals, sell goods – even arrange financing – for straighter noses, bigger breasts and thicker hairlines.

To president/CEO Dennis Condon of the Plastic Surgery Co., the online world is exactly the right space for marketing the intensely personal, often prohibitively expensive services provided by plastic surgeons.

“The nice thing about the Internet is it’s private and it’s visual, so it’s the perfect medium for us to get the word out,” Condon said. The site is called www.idealme.com.

His company, which went public in December, takes what is in effect a cottage industry and fuses some of its many solo practitioners into a geographically far-flung partnership. Twenty-five independent private practices wanted so badly to be part of the virtual venture that they agreed to pay the Santa Barbara, CA, company 10 percent to 15 percent of their total net revenues, regardless of whether their business is generated through the site. The company is owned largely by its founding physicians.

Online directories and local Web sites are becoming as important as the Yellow Pages for consumers curious about plastic surgery. At idealme.com, which launched this month, visitors first enter separate male or female portions of the site. Pages give details on procedures, answer frequent questions and display the results of other patients’ operations. Then they get referred to a board certified doctor in their area.

Other companies offer similar services. Directories such as www.imagineu.com or www.doctordirectory.com help locate surgeons. Sites like www.onhealth.com or www.health4her.com give information on plastic surgery. Naturally, Condon suggests his company’s service is most viable.

“The difficulty that some of the directories may have is that they’re going to rely heavily upon the surgeons to sign up with the page as a directory,” he said.

Through a partnership with Dallas-based Patriot Financing, the Plastic Surgery Co. can offer consumers up to $10,000 in loans for their procedure. The Plastic Surgery Co. takes a 1 percent cut of all dollars financed through its site. As of last week, the company had carried out 60 financings, though the site is still in its early testing stages.

Idealme.com has an imaging service that, for $50, lets interested people upload a digital image of themselves onto the site that the company turns into a computer-generated shot of potential results.

Visitors to idealme.com are spending 40 minutes at the site on average. Traffic is slow, but by the end of January, Plastic Surgery expects to integrate www.personique.com, a site the company recently acquired that gets 20,000 to 30,000 unique monthly visitors.

By the end of the first quarter, executives hope to begin selling books, videos and a line of skin-care products through the sites. The Plastic Surgery Co. is in talks with e-commerce partners now, Condon said.

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