Its influence was not as far-reaching as Oprah’s Book Club, but its consequences were likely far more devastating. Though we smirk at its mass appeal and its seeming insincerity, all Oprah’s list does is make more people read. But Jaclyn Easton’s book and associated website, StrikingltRich.com, surely lured thousands of brash entrepreneurs onto the Web rocks, ending in their humiliating but captivating bankruptcies.
Easton is a popular tech columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a frequent guest commentator on the 7:00 p.m. entertainment-television circuit. She published StrikingItRich.com in 1999, before the Web wipeout. The book profiles 23 “incredibly successful websites you’ve probably never heard of.” Easton’s purpose was to prove that the Web could be profitable for small businesses, not just the giants. To that end, she described the Internet successes of such unglamorous companies as Long Island Hot Tubs, Coastal Tool and Supply, KoreaLink, and Motorcycle Online. She demonstrated, above all, that obsessive customer service was the key to a profitable website. One of the better examples she chose was the commerce site of Ridout Plastics (www.ridoutplastics.com), a San Diego company located on Ruffin Road, just east of Montgomery Field.
“Elliott Rabin’s $8000 website,” Easton explained, “paid for itself with its first customer.” She quoted Rabin, “This client wanted to move his company to San Diego. So he went to a search engine, punched in‘San Diego and plastics,’and our name came back at the top of the list. After seeing the manufacturing pages on our website, he called me up and — boom — a $100,000-a-year account. Thank you.”
Ridout Plastics’ site states, “Our Core Competency is the ability to take plastic and then modify, enhance, and decorate its shape to provide your solution—quickly and accurately.” Rabin’s online biography reads like a typical American Dream cliche.“I am a San Diego native,” he writes, “and graduated from UC San Diego earning a degree in Visual Arts (Art History) with Honors. I have an MBA in Financial Management. I have been playing on computers since the early Atari games.... From an early age, I knew that plastics would be my occupation. Maybe it was The Graduate that planted a seed, but I found a career paper written in the ninth grade detailing my desire to join the family plastics business. The warehouse and manufacturing facilities at Ridout Plastics were a paradise as a teenager where I learned about the varieties of plastics sold. As an avid surfer, I was pleased to find the raw materials necessary to build surfboards on the shelves of the family store. By the time I graduated from college, I built over 500 top-quality surfboards with my old friend, R.W. Preisendorfer. Upon college graduation I was faced with four paths; (1) join my father, (2) expand the surfboard business as a full-time career, (3) pursue a Master’s Degree in Art History at Yale University, or (4) move to Kauai, grow avocados, and surf.
“Well, I guess the rest is‘history,’ as they say. Ridout Plastics has grown from 8 to over 65 employees, from 5000 square feet of space to over 50,000 square feet of combined manufacturing and office space.... How many company owners can walk around their company each day and be absolutely amazed at what is being made? The solutions we provide, and the care put into each order by our employees, is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever see.
The U.S. Government awarded us the prestigious Family Business of the Year in 1995 as a result.”
Ridout Plastics manufactures all kinds of plastic products for industries and individuals. They fill custom orders for tanks, trophy cases, podiums, lecterns, custom furniture, biotech supplies, and museum display cases. Rabin explains at the site, “We stock and sell only the finest-quality products for lasting solutions. All materials can be cut and shaped to the customer’s exact requirements. Products are exported to Baja California, Brazil, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Chile, and other countries. Engineering plastics supplied by us were on-board the lunar landing program (and remain on the moon).”Customers can fax blueprints to Ridout, which will then take the designs and see them from prototype to product. “The company has invested in state-of-the-art equipment for exacting tolerance control in today’s zero-defect environment. From handcrafted fabrication to full-production extrusion and injection-molding — we do it all.”
One of Easton’s primary lessons is that, contrary to popular opinion, “content” is not the kiss of death. So long as a site provides a clearly stated service, it can load up on content and still succeed. Rid-ouLcom serves as a fine example of this precept. A client can visit the site to order a custom-made skateboard or an oddly shaped piece of plastic tubing and receive as a bonus an education in the expansion and contraction properties of Plexiglas (acrylic).“For indoor applications where temperatures normally remain the same (+/- 20 degrees F),” the site’s FAQ page explains, “acrylic sheet does not generally require special considerations for expansion and contraction, other than providing for a snug rather than tight fit since its movement is approximately .00984 in. per foot length for each 20 degrees of temperature change.”
Q. There were plastics in 1914?
“Do you remember the little plastic numbers and letters on grocery shelves (that you used to switch around)? Originally founded as the Rench Company in downtown San Diego in 1914, that’s how we got our start. In fact, the owner’s grandfather and father used to buy their store supplies from the Rench Company in the 1930s. But, for a nice and informative overview of plastics, specifically Plexiglas, click here for the Plexiglas Primer!”
Nothing fancy, but as recent economic developments have demonstrated, probably the formula of the future for websites. As Rabin told Easton in 1999,“Every day I am totally blown away that people out there find us and want to do business with us."