The FootballHelmets.com story
From an Exact Match Domain Name to a Working Website
Back in 1998, I started registering domain names. I bought and sold a few different domain names over the years with names like buyliquor.com, xproperties.com, a few different 4 digit domain names, and various names that were followed by realty or real estate. There were several domain names that I could have bought, but never pulled the trigger on. The 3 digit dot come for my initials is one example; also a lot of two word phrases. One name I thought about registering, but never did, was the catchy phrase: footballhelmets.com.
Fast forward to 2010, and a daily domain name for sale newsletter had footballhelmets.com available for around $40,000. I think it was reduced to $30,000, and at that point I made an offer. I negotiated for awhile and ended up buying the footballhelmets.com domain name for $20,000. I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do with the domain name and initially used a domain parking page from Google that only pastes AdWords on the site. This generated less than $100 a month. (Google has since discontinued that service and made other changes resulting in domain parking revenue substantially decreasing everywhere.) I knew ultimately I wanted to do something that generated some real money.
How Football Helmets are Sold
The football helmet market is really two separate markets. The first is football helmets for players; everyone from Pee Wee and Pop Warner all the way up through high school, college, and professional football. These are basically safety devices and need to be sized and fitted properly in order to minimize the liability of the retailer and helmet manufacturer when it comes to concussions and other head injuries. This market involves face-to-face interaction and isn’t really suited for the Internet. The second market is collectible football helmets, including full-size and mini-helmets. These helmets are not worn; instead, people collect these and display them on their desk, in cases, etc. and they also make a great place for autograph. This is the market I wanted to go after.
I decided to build an online store and considered Volusion, Shopify and other providers. It was a bit of a toss-up, but I ended up going with Volusion. I wanted to design a business that was as passive as possible. I found a company that sells a lot of sports collectibles including football helmets wholesale to other merchants, and even drop ships them for you. The logo I got designed on Fiverr for $5, and I found someone overseas on elance (now Freelancer.com) to upload 100’s of photos and descriptions to my Volusion site for a few hundred bucks. My marketing strategy depended on people typing the name directly into their browser, or finding me several pages deep in their Google search. (I did benefit from sold old links to the footallhelmets.com name on sites with some mild page rank; they were probably generated when the site had something else there)
Let Me Introduce You to My Friend Amazon.com
Online retail is not something that you can approach in such a half-assed fashion. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, there is some customer service involved, like when UPS drops off a package in a condo office and the customer can’t find it. You have to deal with returns. You get emails from customers. A direct match name is good from a branding standpoint, but it doesn’t necessarily generate much traffic. Finally, and most importantly, you are in direct competition with Amazon.com and eBay. I was selling a commodity product. You could do a Google search or Amazon search and find dozens of stores that would sell you an Ohio State mini helmet. At that point, it just came down to price. Additionally with Amazon Prime and the fact that they already have all your information on file, Amazon is just an easier way to buy the helmet. Ebay doesn’t have quite the advantages of Amazon, but it has a massive amount of traffic nonetheless.
While my online store was profitable, I decided to sell the domain name to someone else for around $25,000 (when you have a valuable domain name, you get approached by buyers periodically, and there are a number of sites where you can auction the name). Earning a couple of hundred bucks a month was not worth the hassle. In retrospect, the smarter thing to do would have been to develop it with unique content; maybe provide an online app for designing football helmets or a way to involve a picture of a football helmet with social networking in some way. Or at least sell collectible football helmets that you could not get anywhere else (perhaps obscure D-III schools, large high schools, etc.) If you are selling a commodity, a cheap and boring online store is no match for the big boys.