Tanga puts Etsy in its sights with craft site BelleChic

For the past five years, the online retailer Tanga has delighted its niche audience with an unusual product selection, a breezy sense of humor and a variety of online puzzles and games thrown into the shopping mix. It's a strategy that is working: year-to-date sales are up 63 percent over this point in 2010, and last year's total revenue was up 350 percent from the year before.

Last week, the company launched a new online store that applies the limited-time deal concept to a new market: handmade goods.

"We want to provide moments of 'Oh, that's cool' for our customers, products they can't find anywhere else," said Tanga founder and CEO Jeremy Young. "Even if they don't buy, they'll be inspired by the creativity and passion of these artists."

Board games, snarky T-shirts and 6-foot-tall monkeys

Five years ago, Young was in the business of buying small-run and hard-to-find board games, then liquidating them to the gamer audience. That was the origin of Tanga, which over time added other products that would appeal to board gamers, beginning with puzzles and brain teasers, eventually leading to the current product mix which includes snarky T-shirts, gadgets, magazines and men's accessories. Most products are available for 24 hours only, with a select few graduating to the "Second-Chance Deals" archive.

From a marketing standpoint, the company has always worked a healthy dose of humor into its messaging. Staffers posted an interview with the head programmer's cat, they gave away a six-foot-tall stuffed monkey to their 500,000th registered user, and they regularly blog in a tone that is decidedly silly. After every purchase, shoppers are treated to a thank-you screen showing just how happy the purchase has made the team.

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"It's always been about fun, and we don't take ourselves too seriously," said COO Matt Molen. "Our product mix is the type where people are taking a chance on a low cost item. People engage with the site because of its personality, and humor is a big part of that, especially when you're dealing with a business that was founded on fun and games."

Tanga's checkout thank-you screen

After checkout, shoppers are shown just how happy they've made the staff. According to Molen, "pictures of staff members and a token hottie."

The launch of BelleChic

Last week, the company launched its newest store BelleChic, which is dubbed "Curators of the Best of Handmade." The business model is a hybrid of the Tanga limited-time-deal approach and marketplaces for handmade goods such as Etsy and eBay.

"The beauty of handmade goods is the thrill of discovering something truly creative and truly unique," Young said. "Something that stands out from the mass-produced items you'll find at Walmart or Target. Plus, it feels great knowing that you're supporting a small business that devotes great care and time to creating a high-quality product."

Young said that the current online marketplace for handmade goods is "crowded and cluttered," and that BelleChic's mission will be to cut through that clutter. Anyone can sign up for an account on Etsy or eBay and start hawking their wares — but BelleChic storefronts are by invitation only.

"Internally, we use the term 'curating' because we feel that's our job — to find the treasures of the handmade world and partner with their creators."

One of the first creators the site is partnering with is Rachel O'Brien, who manufactures and sells perfumes, soaps and oils under her brand Orange Thyme. She said BelleChic is the first daily-deal site that has appealed to her.

"The quality of the products is of utmost importance," she said. "I love the fact that you cannot simply apply and just get in. I love the look and feel of the site and I do feel that it represents my line well."

As with Tanga, sales on BelleChic will be open for a limited window, in this case 48 hours. The site currently opens new sales three days per week, and as with all daily-deal sites, quantities of each item are limited.

"BelleChic's true challenge will be to discover the great artists, curate their products for our customers, and give them a voice and a presence," Young said.

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