Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. So was Anthony Baggett. Elvis reached the pinnacle of success and then died of drug abuse in 1977. Anthony was a success and an addict, but his story is different—it’s one of hope.
Anthony Baggett was, by all measure, a successful advertising and Internet marketing businessman in Tupelo. But, as happens in life sometimes, something went wrong, and he found himself in a downward spiral, riding the plummeting vehicle of substance abuse. He had become an addict and it began to take its toll on his life, family and business. When he hit bottom and made a choice to get back on track, the Tupelo, Mississippi, chapter of the National Association on Alcohol and Drug Dependency (NAADD), provided the support and motivation for Anthony to get clean and stay that way. Now, his advertising, marketing and Internet skills are in payback mode.
It seems somehow fitting that in the Mississippi town where the late King of Rock and Roll, was born, and who died of a drug abuse problem, is where Baggett and the local NAADD organization have written a new chapter in fund raising strategy to further its effort to help others who find themselves in a situation similar to that in which Baggett (and Elvis) found himself a mere three years ago.
Their fund raising plan, conceived and executed by Baggett, involved opening an online store where they could make books, tapes, discs and other material aimed to help addicts into and through recovery. The profits would (and now do) support their programs.
BAGGETT: I’m a recovering addict and I was doing some work for the National Association on Alcohol and Drug Dependency of Northeast Mississippi, and because non-profits are often plagued with problems stemming from the need for money, these folks here were looking for a way to fund themselves. Non-profits are always looking to grant sources and government funds, but those things are one time deals, and they needed an ongoing source of funds. I sat down and talked with the board—I was doing some consulting with them for free as a public service.
Now they already had a “brick and mortar” store where they sold books and other materials to help recovering addicts. They had been doing that for five years. That got started as one rack of books. But the market was local we needed to tap a bigger source. So I (and the board) came up with the idea of an Internet store. There was no one doing it to the scale, and in the way, that we envisioned.
PeC: How long ago was that?
BAGGETT: That was two years ago. It took me a year to get the site built and to get the inventory together. We launched the Addiction Recovery Superstore a year ago in March of 2005.
PeC: Did the board or you have an idea of what you were getting involved in?
BAGGETT: None of us really knew what to expect. We knew that there was a need and that no one was fulfilling that need. But we didn’t know how great the need was. We just knew the need locally and we sort of made an exponential calculation as to what the need was nationally or even internationally. But it was, the others would say and so would I, a hunch more than anything else. For that reason, and also because we didn’t really have any startup funding, we started small. We only had about a hundred titles. We had a few other items such as gifts and mementos. But, because of the response we received, we have since more than quadrupled our inventory.
PeC: When you started the project, what was the burden on your shoulders to get the site up and running or did you bring in some help—how did you get the job done?
BAGGETT: No, I had been in the business for ten years, in my own advertising agency where we primarily focused on web and digital media, and I already had plenty of experience. And because they had no money, I just volunteered to do it, I just extended my volunteer efforts to include this project—it took a year to build it, so it’s obvious I didn’t spend night and day on it. But I built the entire site myself.
PeC: It’s a nice looking site. So you got the site up and you got inventory and then you needed customers. What was your basic strategy for marketing the site?
BAGGETT: Well, we started with a sort of “organic” marketing, through regular channels, some networking. Because of our status as a national organization we had some nationwide contacts, which we made use of, sort of by word of mouth. We did some mail pieces and some media news releases and such. But after that, it was essentially search engine marketing. We don’t run anything in any major publications or any advertising. We simply don’t have the money to run any traditional advertising— all of the profits and cash flow go back into inventory, the association and the operation of our programs. So I have spent a great deal of time working with SEO folks trying to get some good placement on the search engines. And, we have some pay per click campaigns going on both Google and Yahoo.
PeC: You have put yourself into the global marketplace, offering help to addicts the world over. Does your customer response reflect that or are your customers more local and regional?
BAGGETT: Ninety percent of our customers come from outside our state, but from within the U.S. We are starting to see some interest from outside the U.S. I had a fellow the other day who wanted some recovery literature in Spanish, so we’ll be starting to stock some materials in other languages. I ship stuff to Australia, England, the Philippines and other places, as well. But most of the business is from inside the country and from all sections of the country.
PeC: Can you sum up the goals of your projects in a sort of mission statement style?
BAGGETT: Like our name suggests, we hope to become the definitive and the largest superstore of our kind on the Internet, Right now, we have more book titles than anyone else. We’re going to expand that to have many more titles, gift items, audio and video products, and software that all relate to addiction and recovery from addiction.
PeC: Is the typical customer the addict or is it the helpful loved one, who shops in your store?
BAGGETT: It’s probably 50-50. You know, I get a lot of calls from concerned family members, who are looking for a particular book or some sort of insight that will help them understand addiction. Of course, I have plenty of suggestions that I can offer. But we also get a lot of alcoholics and addicts who buy the literature— this type of literature is hard to find in regular book stores—so the reaction of our customers (addicts) is that they are grateful that we can have this many titles they can browse through in one spot. We also have a lot of things they won’t see anywhere else.
PeC: I did notice that you sell chocolate on the site. You know, for some of us that can be an addiction too?
BAGGETT: (chuckle) Well, we say that the only two addictions we feed are chocolate and caffeine. We have a small coffee shop here at the store and we just sort of threw those things on the site to see what happened. You know, in the recovery world, it is not uncommon for people to gather in coffee shops after meetings. So we’re tapping a market with the coffee, it goes sort of hand-in-hand.
PeC: Has your operation created any like stores with other recovery or non-profit groups trying the same thing?
BAGGETT: I’ve tried to research that and as yet I haven’t found anyone new that is doing what we do. There are some other sites that have been around for years, some are related to one publisher, which we’re not.
PeC: In your building of this new Internet business, was there any one challenge that presented more of an obstacle than any other?
BAGGETT: You know, aside from funding issues, the biggest obstacle we faced was that we wanted to have a full-featured store with the ability to search and sort products and offer the same functionality as, say, an Amazon.com. We are a Yahoo store and I have had to do some creative things to have some of the functionality that a typical Yahoo store wouldn’t support.
PeC: Are you using the Yahoo cart?
BAGGETT: Yahoo does the cart and the check out. Everything else you see on the site, I built with PHP. It’s not a typical Yahoo store.
PeC: How are you handling fulfillment?
BAGGETT: All fulfillment is done here. We have everything in stock right here. One of the things we wanted to do was to ship next day. There are some things we are about to offer, some high-dollar jewelry items for example, that we may not stock, because it is cost prohibitive, but we have an agreement with our suppliers that they would drop ship within a day or two. We didn’t want to have a store where people were waiting weeks and weeks for books. We do all of the order fulfillment right here and we have our own warehouse.
PeC: Do you have any numbers yet, any feeling for what the first year of operation will gross?
BAGGETT: I going to say that we’ll be in the range of $40,000 in sales for the first year, with half of that coming in the last three months.
PeC: Any words of wisdom for another nonprofit group that wants to try your strategy?
BAGGETT: My advice is, think big, you are not going to noticed on the Internet if you don’t.
PeC: You have a lot of time and energy invested in this project.
BAGGETT: I do. But it is something I love. I’m a recovering addict myself, this is obviously close to my heart and it’s my payback for the help I got from the organization.