In 1985, Sue and Bernard Crowder launched Charlie Crow, a children's costume designer and manufacturer, as a wholesale supplier.
They were consistently frustrated by the piecemeal nature of wholesalers' orders. They would send out catalogues showing 100 of their own designs and the forms would return with high-volume orders for six. 'We felt the public were missing out, that they would love our products if they knew about them,' says Sue.
After losing a lucrative contract with Toys 'R' Us to an anonymous Chinese manufacturer, the couple decided to cut out the middleman and go straight to the public. 'We wanted to carve out a niche that wouldn't be eroded by a company offering lower-cost margins,' Sue explains. The decision paid off. The Crowders designed www.charliecrow.com and, using a web agency, launched the site in 2000. Sales have since grown fast. At first, the site accounted for 5% of business; for 2002-03, it's likely to be 25%.
The site is global, with the US market accounting for 30% of sales and the Japanese market generating a healthy revenue stream.
'We've even had orders for pumpkin costumes from the Bahamian government and an order from Ebeye, one of the Marshall Islands in the north Pacific,' laughs Sue. From a Chinese takeaway to pumpkins in the Bahamas, the past few years have been enough to satisfy any business's appetite.