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What started as a pet food catalogue company turned into a multi-divisional marketplace for consumers looking for community with their commerce. "You can’t survive in the e-commerce business by just being a retail merchandiser,” said Alex Tabibi, CEO of TABcom (formerly Pets United). “To get e-commerce right, you have to do 500 completely disparate things really well at the same time, which is why the time for consolidation of infrastructure is now.”

And Tabibi would know. In 2002, he and his brother Carlo established Pets United after purchasing the inventory of a wholesale company in the dog grooming business. They then purchased Dogs.com and followed up with Horse.com and Garden.com. As the URLs the brothers purchased diversified out of the pet industry, the brothers realized they needed a new name. 

Tabibi said TABcom is a play on the Tabibi name but also on the fact that the company has multiple tabs that enable consumers to move from one topic to another, whether it’s Greenhouse.com, Green.org, or Ferret.com. The company also developed a new tagline of “commerce, community, and content,” which Tabibi said represents what he and his brother are trying to achieve. 

“We want to provide a holistic experience that integrates community, commerce, and content such that people can flow freely across our domains,” he said. “Our platform is designed to be niche agnostic.”

Personalized experience

Other e-commerce companies have attempted to do what TABcom does, which is consolidate myriad URLs under one umbrella, giving consumers one site to use as a directory. What differentiates the company’s approach from its competitors is the URLs it goes after. 

“We’re mainly focused on the mega domains, the single-word URLs or root domains,” Tabibi said. “For us, the secondary domain names act as feeders for the primary domains whereas other companies start at the secondary level.”

This is what Tabibi means by niche agnostic. Any of the domain names the company owns can be categorized into pets, green, leisure, or home furnishings, and each offers consumers a personalized experience around a specific area of interest. 

The company already owns the rights to 5,000 domains but has only launched a portion of those. The commonality among all domain names is that each comes with a fan base of followers that have developed communities based on common lifestyle interests.

“Passion brings our brands together,” Tabibi said. “If you’re a horse rider, that’s your life. For a lot of people with dogs, dogs are their life. We’re more lifestyle based in that regard.”

Cut the cost

Two years ago, it took Tabibi almost six months to create a new website, put up the products, and organize information. The delay, in part, was due to the fact that Pets United started out as a catalogue company. 

As the company has transitioned into its new structure and grew into its new name, it’s cut the cost of its mailings by 80% and built an infrastructure that enables Tabibi to move faster toward his goal of having 5,000 domains located under the TABcom umbrella. 

“Two years ago, adding new products was labor intensive and expensive; it cost between $50 and $100 to add a new item,” Tabibi said. “Today, we can get a new site up and already have the product ready to put online in a matter of days, and each new SKU costs around fifty cents.”

In September and October, the company released four new websites, including Solar.com, Petsfood.com, and Greenhouse.com. And with the development of PDM, a product development manager, the company can add thousands of products into its system within two to three weeks. 

“Six months ago, we had approximately 50,000 SKUs,” he said. “Today, we’ve probably got about 150,000, and by the end of 2010, we’ll be up to 250,000.”

E-commerce complexity

Tabibi said succeeding in e-commerce according to his multitasking definition makes it sometimes seem as though TABcom hasn’t made enough progress, but that’s not the case. For the past few years, the company focused on the commerce part of the business. It’s now focused on the content piece, which means developing the tools to make it easier for consumers to navigate and shop across any of its domain names. 

The company hasn’t yet developed an integrated shopping cart, but it’s coming. Tabibi said step one is consolidating the company’s warehouses. “To handle multi-warehousing, your system has to know to buy product for one facility and not the other, know demand per facility, and place the order and make sure it goes to the right facility,” he said. 

“It’s complicated, so we’re consolidating into the middle of the country. We’ll then operate east and west locations for our heaviest and fastest moving items so we can deliver efficiently to the East and West coasts.”

Next on Tabibi’s agenda is further developing the community piece of TABcom’s online presence, which now includes the ability for consumers to share and communicate on a number of their sites. Efforts are now focused on incorporating all of the company’s content so consumers feel they’re getting a holistic experience. Tabibi offers Dogs.com/tv as an example of what’s to come.

More than 150,000 people visit the site each day to look at humorous or educational dog videos. The company wants to answer consumers’ questions about the products in the videos before they even ask and is working on integrating personalization of content into the video area and providing links back to products that could be relevant and helpful.

Today the company is monetizing its traffic, and its media side through the video content has become profitable. “We were profitable in media in a much shorter timeframe than in commerce,” he said. “It just goes to show the complexity of e-commerce.”