Making Money With Technology

Bigelow Apothecaries: Paper or Electronic?

October 17, 2008

  • Adrienne Szewczyk Adrienne Szewczyk

Say you own a small, family pharmacy, and you carry your own line of cosmetics. Suppose your cosmetics lines are very popular in your local market and you think there is potential to go bigger – much bigger. How are you going to do it? One ready answer is catalog sales, but that means you must print and mail thousands of catalogs, at a pretty hefty price tag. On the other hand, says Ian Ginsberg, owner of Bigelow Chemists, think about all the people you know who read their email every single day. That means they are online, which means they are one or two clicks away from Bigelow’s virtual shops. He elected to grow his business using the latest technology.

Bigelow Apothecaries has been in business since the late 1830s; that’s over 160 years taking care of customers in Greenwich Village. That’s a lot of history, and something to be proud of. Ian Ginsberg inherited the shop from his father, and he didn’t want it to become a historical artifact. As more and more chain pharmacies began popping up around the country, Ginsberg sought the most effective plan of action to keep his mom-and-pop business alive and well. He turned to the internet.

Ginsberg acknowledges that lots of people truly enjoy the paper catalog experience, and he’s not planning to move away from that opportunity to sell his products. He also knows he can reach a nearly unlimited number of people through the internet. He moved into the e-store arena a few years ago when he signed on with a now-defunct beauty site. Following that introduction, he launched two of his own e-commerce sites, and He used Alchemy to market his company’s own line of personal care items and cosmetics. Today, sells personal care products from the C.O. Bigelow line as well as other makers.

The sales he made through his catalog business positioned him to hit the ground running when he launched his own e-commerce sites; he already had the infrastructure in place to process online orders. He is especially keen on internet marketing because he can update his product and pricing information on a daily basis, if need be, without incurring high costs. Furthermore, he likes to point out that an entrepreneur who manages an online store can support several pages of colorful web content for the cost of a small, black-and-white ad in the telephone book.

The online catalog advises customers, “If you can’t get it anywhere else, try Bigelow . . .” and technology has helped the company back up that boast.