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AmericanFlags.com: How Jeff Reynolds Turned His Bargain Domain Into a Star Spangled Business 

By Ron Jackson
Editor/Publisher



What’s in a name? That may seem like a silly question in a business that is built on the premise that a domain name can mean the difference between success and failure. Still, there are countless examples of heavily trafficked websites that have worked despite having names that professional domainers would consider to be a waste of registration fees. There’s no doubt that developing and search engine optimization skills can overcome nebulous nomenclature. On the flipside of that, there is also solid evidence that the right name can jump start an enterprise like nothing else.




Jeff Reynolds
AmericanFlags.com

 

A perfect example of this is AmericanFlags.com, a name 38-year-old New Yorker Jeff Reynolds picked up on Ebay three years ago for just $2,650. Reynolds didn’t know it at the time, but landing that generic gem would change his life forever. To see just how much it would impact his world you have to take a look at the path Reynolds originally embarked on before hitting a detour that sent him to an unexpected destination – the domain industry and a new role as an internet entrepreneur.  

Reynolds grew up in the Long Island community of Holtsville, New York, a town best known as the home of the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS is all about collecting money, but that was never the focus of life for the Reynolds family. Jeff's mother Maureen was devoted to helping others as a public health nurse and Jeff decided lending a hand to those in need would be a central element of his life as well. He went off to college and earned a Bachelor's degree in psychology followed by a Masters in public administration. Today he is completing a Doctorate in social welfare policy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook

 

Reynolds has helped staff a variety of health care and social service charities and continues to work in that arena, primarily focused on governmental affairs, public policy, public relations and fundraising. As if his plate weren't full enough, he also opened his own marketing firm. Reynolds told us “I intentionally keep one foot in the charitable field and one in the business world as each complements the other. I believe wholeheartedly in community service and try to bring some of my business skills into that field. Vice versa, I try to bring a sense of fairness, justice and ethics into my business dealings. I wouldn't be happy doing one without the other and my financial success has enabled me to do even more for causes I care about.”

 

Much of that financial success can be attributed to Reynolds fortuitous discovery of the domain business five years ago.  “I stumbled into the domain world in 1999 when I found a bunch of URLs listed on Ebay,” Reynold said. “All were selling for huge prices, so I trotted over to Netsol to find out what they cost to register. I was shocked to find out that they only cost $70!  I picked up some clunkers, but then got ModelingAgency.com. I found it available one day, slept on it and then registered it the next afternoon. Shortly thereafter I sold it on Ebay for a pretty nice sum and I was hooked!”

 

Like just about everyone else who trod that path before him, Reynolds did hit a few bumps along the way. “I fell into the typical pattern back then of registering a bunch of crappy names and then minutes later exchanging inflated appraisals with other folks on the old Afternic boards. Over time though, I had some decent Ebay sales and did some pretty steady business with regular buyers. It really was a trial and error kind of thing, but I began to figure out what buyers were looking for, learned the drop cycles and other ins and outs of the business”

 

“Taking it to the next level required some help,” Reynolds said. “The support, guidance, encouragement and friendship I've enjoyed at Rick Schwartz's domain board  has helped me immeasurably.” That board is an invitation-only forum that is growing rapidly after recently opening to all who attended the recent T.R.A.F.F.I.C. 2004 domain conference in Delray Beach, Florida. Reynolds was a featured panelist at that event where he made a huge impression on the attendees with his account of how he built a thriving business with AmericanFlags.com.  

 

Reynolds (center)
Speaking at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. 2004 Conference

 

“I think we all look for that life-changing domain and I found it on October 6th, 2001,” Reynolds said. "That was the day I won AmericanFlags.com on Ebay. Given that 9/11 had happened just three weeks earlier and the country was bathed in American flags, it seemed like a pretty safe bet. The dream could have gone up in smoke though, as the Ebay seller was approached by an unsuccessful bidder who asked him to "forget that the auction happened" and to instead sell him the domain for $8,000. However the seller kept his word and forwarded me the emails with the higher offer in case I wanted to put a deal together with this unsuccessful bidder - something that wouldn't have happened at any price!”

 

Reynolds added, “ I keep those emails close to me even today as a reminder that there are two very distinct types of business people out there, especially when it comes to online business - those who are ethical and those who are not. Another unsuccessful bidder wrote me a very nice email and became my chief supplier of flags until he ran out. We both made out pretty well.”

 

Reynolds thus embarked on an adventure that would require him to learn an entirely new industry and go off in a direction he had never envisioned before acquiring AmericanFlags.com. Parking a domain on a PPC (pay per click) page and collecting revenue is one thing. Developing a full fledged business with marketing, inventory acquisition and order fulfillment is an entirely different ballgame. However with the targeted traffic being drawn by that domain name, Reynolds felt he had no choice but to follow the development path.  

 

“I started carrying some basic 3'X5' flags and they moved pretty quickly from day 1. However my supplier drop-shipped everything for me, so I really needed to simply email him the orders on a daily basis,” Reynolds said. I supplemented the product roster through some affiliate programs. Most of those started out offering me a 5% commission. You can't imagine how good it felt to call some of them and say in a demanding and somewhat obnoxious voice, "We are AmericanFlags.com and we want at least 20%. To my surprise they agreed!”  

For Reynolds that brought home the power generated by a good domain name. "As my guy blew through his inventory, I needed to find a new supplier. In the process I figured out that I could make much more money on some products by carrying them and shipping them myself. So, I picked out half a dozen main items that seemed popular and started processing orders in-house.”

 

In 2002 flag sales started to cool off a bit so Reynolds decided  to test a new marketing idea, an idea that propelled his business to another level. “I started doing a Free Flag promotion. I still run it, usually linked with news events and holidays. For example we promote the giveaway every July 4th, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, Flag Day, and on  the anniversary of 9/11. We also did a flag giveaway to mark the passing of Ronald Reagan. That was huge and left us packing and shipping flags for weeks on end,” Reynolds said.

 

“Under this promotion, the consumer pays shipping and handling charges of $5.99, which leaves us a decent margin, but also provides an opportunity for an upsell to a better, larger, more expensive flag or other items later on. We used our customer base, for example, to sell a ton of those Iraqi Most Wanted playing cards and recently to sell the ribbon car magnets you see everywhere." Reynolds added, “The free flag promotions have also gotten us a ton of free media coverage in local and national media outlets - radio stations, TV stations, print and online. I'm a PR guy, so this is my strength, but the response has still been phenomenal!”  

 

AmericanFlags.com now directly ships about 20 different products and they carry about 400 total with the rest being drop-shipped through a major manufacturer. They carry everything from U.S. & State flags to residential and commercial flagpoles to banners, bunting and patriotic memorabilia. Jeff gives his significant other, Maureen Mullin, credit for keeping the enterprise clicking on all cylinders. She helps field phone calls, oversee shipping and put out the inevitable fires that crop in every busy business.

Reynolds & Maureen Mullin

 

Reynolds said, "Our site isn't fancy by today's standards, but it gets the job done well. Most of our customers are older, somewhat inexperienced computer users and most don't love flashy stuff anyway. We've got some great corporate accounts - including some major defense contractors who buy a lot of very large flags and some great school and small business accounts.”

 

Reynolds’ products range in price from a few dollars all the way up to $5,000 for giant flags. There is something for everyone and that has generated a tremendous flow of income. However Jeff told us there is also a downside. “People call at all hours of the night wanting to check the status of their orders and we get a few emails a week from folks asking about flag etiquette rules (after all, we ARE AmericanFlags.com, right?). I know far too many people working at the Post Office on a first name basis. I have learned far too much about the intricacies of flag construction and can identify most state and international flags at this point - a talent that few really appreciate.”  

 

Still Reynolds wouldn’t have done things any differently. “Developing the site from scratch and watching it blossom has been incredibly rewarding and I've learned a lot about business/ecommerce in the process. I also think that I've added quite a bit of value to the domain, which would come into play should I decide to look for an exit strategy in the future.”

 

There is a never ending debate in the domain industry about whether it is better to monetize domains through pay per click revenue parking pages or through site development. Reynolds has done both. “Development is hard work, plain and simple. Essentially, I use PPC to generate the revenue I need for new acquisitions and development. I think PPC offers domainers an incredible venue for making money and the folks at Domain Sponsor and Fabulous.com in particular run first-rate operations. I do, however, worry about the long term impact of PPC if surfers who type in domains find only familiar looking parking pages with a ton of links on them,” Reynolds said.

 

Reynolds has noticed that PPC providers are beginning to produce more attractive pages with far more relevant links that will give surfers a more favorable experience than in the past. “The proliferation of attractive PPC parking pages is probably outpacing the average Front Page user,” Reynolds said. "The key I think is developing high quality destinations either through advanced PPC systems or through individual site development. We need to reinforce and reward type-in behavior.”  

 

Of course a lot depends on the the merits of each individual domain name you have. “At the end of the day, the objective is to maximize revenues,” Reynolds said. “Some domains are not great candidates for development and it's probably not worth the time and effort. Prime domains, however, may be worth the time and effort. Type-in traffic is more valuable than any other type of traffic and if you have it, by all means max it out. Why settle for a few pennies or even dollars per click, when you could net $100, $1000 or more? I make about $3,000 on a $5,000 flag sale. How many clicks would I need to rack up on a parking page to make that same $3,000?”  

 

Reynolds' other 
sites include
SantasMailbox.com

His success with AmericanFlags.com has prompted Reynolds to branch out into other areas. He has CounselingDirectory.com, Discrimination.com, MyWeddingDay.com, TopWeddingWebsites.com, BestPsychics.com, LegalReferrals.com, TopPhotographers.com and DivorceDirectory.com as well. “All of those sites feature links/referrals to surfers in those markets," Reynolds said. “We also run JackOLantern.com featuring Halloween products and SantasMailbox.com, a letters from Santa service. It's a pretty diverse group of ventures and it can be labor intensive, however, I think that kind of diversification and reach is critical to success.”  

With approximately 500 domains in his portfolio, Reynolds has found that time is in far shorter supply than good development opportunities.  "Time consuming" is an understatement! Still, the business potential is SO huge, it's hard to not continue full steam ahead,” Reynolds said. The demands on his time are so intense, Reynolds has had to realign his priorities. “I still acquire domains for possible development and/or resale, but am limited by the demands of my developed sites, etc. I don't work the drops anymore and the auction drop prices tend to get out of hand, so that's not a game I play very often," he said.  

  

Instead he does some direct buys from resellers on various boards and tries to snag some bargains from non-domainers while also looking at emerging trends for domain ideas.” I believe that domains are one of the very best investments one can make and while we'll probably see some fluctuation as time passes, the overall trend will be an upward one,” Reynolds said. While many think the window of opportunity in domain acquisition has just about closed, Reynolds doesn’t agree, “It's still there, you just have to look harder, act faster and work smarter."

 

As hard as it is to get away from business, Reynolds makes time for an intense game of basketball every Saturday afternoon. Once in awhile he squeezes in a round of golf or a weekend trip to the nearby Connecticut casinos. Even then it’s hard to get his mind off domains. Aside from the many business opportunities still out there he thinks more time needs to be spent on burnishing the image of the industry as a whole.

 

“As domain holders, we need a clearer, louder and better organized voice to counteract the cybersquatter image that's often portrayed in the media - sometimes fairly, but generally unfairly," Reynolds said. He has gotten involved in helping organize a new trade group called the World Association of Domain Name Developers to help address that situation. Reynolds hopes WADND (website coming soon) will spur the development of  “a more consistent ethic and a steady presence for an active, intelligent and articulate community rather than a bunch of far-flung folks sitting in bath robes, working in solitude, muttering to ourselves while developing carpal tunnel syndrome! That’s the logical next step for what can now be called an industry,”  Reynolds said. Wherever that project or the industry as a whole goes, odds are Reynolds will be found where he is now, right in the middle of things.

 

 

  * * * * *


Photo Credits: The photos of Jeff Reynolds in this article are courtesy
of Marcia Lynn and Warren Walker of http://www.myrtlebeachgallery.com & MyrtleBeachInc.com

 

 

Editor’s Note: For those who would like to comment on this story, we invite you to make use of our Letters to the Editor feature (write to editor@dnjournal.com).



If you missed our previous Cover Story click on the headline below: 

Successful Trade Show Heralds the Start of a New Era For the Domain Industry

All other previous Cover Stories are available in our Archive

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Domain Name Journal
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