News Column

Startup to Leverage Social Media Deals for Hunters

April 23, 2013

Austin startup Wide Open Spaces is betting that if given the chance, hunters and anglers will become loyal social media shoppers.

The company's website, which launched last year, offers limited-time deals on hunting, fishing and outdoor gear for up to 80 percent off retail prices. Last month, Wide Open Spaces added openseason, an online retail store that sells merchandise at discounted prices without time limits.

Co-founder and CEO Denis O'Dwyer said that although more than 37 million people hunt and fish in the United States, they have had little to choose from online. Websites of large sporting chains usually focus on their own brands; lesser known product lines are hard to find, and online communities are fragmented, he said.

"It just kept itching at me that this is a huge demographic that was being ignored," said O'Dwyer, an e-commerce veteran whose previous roles include vice president of local sales at Yelp. "The perception is that sportsmen aren't online and that they buy differently. That's just not the case -- we've seen a 250 percent increase in sales done via smartphones and tablets since launch."

The 10-person company, which has offices at Seventh Street and Congress Avenue, is backed by $1.75 million from investors including Mercury Fund, RPM Ventures and Dundee Venture Capital.

Blair Garrou, managing director of Mercury Fund, said his firm liked Wide Open Space's focus on an untapped market.

"Venture capitalists as a whole are funding social commerce plays that are really competing for the same dollar. They're going after urban males and females and suburban parents, and they're becoming really expensive to launch," he said. "Sportsmen aren't being targeted by any other site, and we really liked Denis' idea of building a terrific platform for them."

Membership, which is free, is required to shop on the Wide Open Spaces site. Users receive a daily e-mail with a special offer, which typically is good for three to four days.

The online store offers about 500 products from 50 to 60 brands.

Customer Barbara Arrington, who owns a marine dealership in Greenville, said she uses Wide Open Spaces to shop for herself and for her store.

"I'm always looking for new merchandise, and I've found new brands and specialized items that I wouldn't have known about otherwise," Arrington said. "Even with paying the freight, the reduced prices make it a great deal."

The company doesn't disclose financial information, but O'Dwyer said revenue for the past six months has grown 20 percent month over month. The company expects to hit 500,000 members this summer, he said.

Now Wide Open Spaces is gearing up for its next phase of growth by raising a new round of funding, which O'Dwyer expects to be in the $5 million range.

The company also is planning to release a new free mobile app later this year.

"You can post photos, and friends can comment, and you can connect with sportsmen in other regions and share information," O'Dwyer said. "It will be like your own online trophy room."

For more stories on small businesses and entrepreneurs, please see HispanicBusiness' Entrepreneur Channel

Source: (c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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