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Wisconsinmade.com: Selling everything but cheeseheads

There's nothing some new economy types would like to do more than change the image of Wisconsin as home of cheddar-eating, beer-drinking cheeseheads.

If Wisconsinmade.com, a clearinghouse for products produced in the Badger State, is any gauge, those branding efforts have a way to go. Cheese is a top seller among the thousands of visitors stopping at the site, especially this time of year. Beer might be, too, if the Verona-based business could figure a hassle-free way to sell it. However, the site's owner has taken a stand against the cheese-shaped foam hats that are so prevalent on national TV broadcasts.

"We send people to a different site if they want cheeseheads because we decided not to sell them," said Wisconsinmade.com president Linda Remeschatis. "When you're watching the Packer game and they show those things, it looks so goofy."

About 70 percent of Wisconsinmade's sales come from out of state. The site is home to more than 800 products from 200 companies that produce food, art and other Badger State goods.

WisBusiness.com's Brian Leaf spoke Dec. 17 with Remeschatis about what's selling on the site this holiday season.

Leaf: What's hot this Christmas from Wisconsin?

Cheese is always a big item – cheese baskets and cheese boxes. Also, there's a popcorn basket that's hot. There's a cheese of the month club and we also started other months – dessert of the month club, ice cream of the month club. They're popular.

Leaf: How many items do you have on your site?

We have over 800 items. It's probably closer to 900 now. There are about 200 different companies and artisans that we work with around the state.

Leaf: How did your company get started?

It started during the sesquicentennial (the 150th aniiversary of Wisconsin's founding, which came in 1998). When the governor was talking about touring other parts of the country, a group of women got together and thought, "Wouldn't it be great if he promoted brats, and cheese, all of the goodies we have here in terms of food products." We were hoping to have a site together quickly – unbeknownst to us it took a lot longer – to sell Wisconsin food products. Unfortunately, we weren't able to do that as quickly as we wanted. But I thought I'd stick with it because it was a good idea. On weekends, in 1998 and '99, my husband (Rick) and I toured the state and checked with different companies or artisans we'd heard about to see if they were interested in what we were doing, interested in going on the Web site. I ended up coming back and decided to leave my job. I was an assistant district attorney in Dane County. Big change.

Leaf: I guess.

Yeah, I'd been doing that for about 13 years. I guess I was ready for a change and that's why I was running around the state.

Leaf: How many hits does your site get a month?

I don't know, but it's a lot – especially at this time.

Leaf: Where do you find that your traffic is coming from?

About 70 percent is coming from outside the state of Wisconsin. There is a lot from California, Arizona, New York, Florida. But every state has been involved with us.

Leaf: Are they ex-pats or just fans?

A lot of them are ex-pats, but a lot of them are alumni of the state at some point in time. There are a lot of businesses that have some tie to Wisconsin, someone employed there is from Wisconsin and they want to do a Wisconsin-themed party. We see a lot of that. Some of them are people who have seen the products and find them interesting. They really don't have a tie to Wisconsin at all. There was just someone I was talking to today. They have a big theme going on because there are a number of employees from Wisconsin. They're going to surprise them with some goodies.

Leaf: How many people does your company employ and what are your revenues?

We're a private company and I can't mention the revenues. But we employ three people right now, plus two contractors who work on a regular basis.

Leaf: So how does your business model work? Do you buy wholesale or drop ship from the producers? Do you carry inventory?

Not much at all. We get a percentage of the sale. There are a few products we carry inventory on, but when we started the business we were looking at mostly food products. We started trying to make sure the product shipped and it was fresh. We were working with cheese producers, and kringle out of Racine.

Leaf: So what kind of growth are you seeing per year?

About 50 percent.

Leaf: And how long has that been going on?

For five years. We haven't checked this month, because we're in the middle of the holiday. But a month ago it was 52 percent this year. It's been really good and more and more people keep finding us. They get so excited because there is such an array of products to choose from. It's often people who are outside of the state who haven't been able to get good cheese or send good things to their family or friends.

Leaf: During the non-holiday months what tends to be the hot products, besides cheese?

We also sell anniversary platters and birthday gifts. One is a platter than people send to the artisan, pictures of their homes. She paints them on to the platter. That's been really popular over the past year. People like customized stuff. It's something different and that's sometimes what people are shopping for. And there are portraits, charcoal drawings a woman does of individuals. A lot of people buy them for gifts for people. We still sell a lot of food. We have birthday baskets. Father's Day is big.

Leaf: What percentage of what you sell is food?

I'd have to say 80 percent. The food is what Wisconsin is known for.

Leaf: And you can't sell beer.

I know. When we first started, we were thinking about that. But when we started to check into it there are only 12 states with reciprocity for us. It gets to be a nightmare. If they order some cheese with their beer and we can't sell the beer there, it was such a mess. There are a few more states coming on board, but I don't know if that will ever change.

Leaf: Do you have any plans to expand? Are you looking at brick and mortar, or catalogs?

We are. We get so many requests for catalogs. A lot of people will say, "Do you have a store in the area? Can we stop and shop?" We started with the whole idea of not doing either of them. Right now I'm saying, "No, I don't want to do that." But the customers speak loudly and we do listen to our customers. We may end up doing something like that.

Leaf: How do you ship ice cream?

In dry ice and a cooler.

Leaf: You pay as much for shipping as you do for the ice cream

Remeschatis: Yeah, but Babcock ice cream, the alumni who haven't had it for years, they love to give it as gifts.

Leaf: How about Packers stuff?

Remeschatis: We've got two specialty pages that feature Badger clothing, prints, that sort of stuff. We have the same things for the Packers. They get a lot of hits.

Leaf: Do you have cheeseheads?

No. We're trying to change the image of the state. We send people to a different site if they want cheeseheads because we decided not to sell them. When you're watching the Packer game and they show those things, it looks so goofy.


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