During Shana Gibson’s reign as Miss Rodeo New Mexico, she discovered that cowgirl queens have needs that can be tough to fulfill.
For instance, where can you find a pair of purple lace-up boots to go with the rhinestones on your leather dress? What if you need a pair of horse-shoe-shaped earrings that won’t clash with your tiara? The first place you should go is to Gibson’s Web site, www.moderncowgirls.com.
Modern Cowgirls LLC, Gibson’s Internet startup, won second place in the national CEO! Best Business Ideas Competition, sponsored by the College Entrepreneurs Organization. Gibson went to Orlando, Fla., to accept the award and brought home $2,500 in prize money.
Professor John Young, director of UNM’s entrepreneurial studies program at the Anderson Schools of Management, said Gibson’s enterprise has enormous promise.
“She’s on the cutting edge of e-tailing,” Young said. “She’s got just as much potential as Jenny Craig and Martha Stewart.”
Gibson calls her Web site a virtual tradeshow, and it has the variety and eclectic abundance of a small flea market –– without the wind blowing dust in your teeth. The site has booths for various artists who create works with western themes, classified advertisements and even a section called “cowgirl talk.”
Shoppers can look for hard-to-find merchandise from the comfort of their own homes, and sellers can create their goods and wait for the checks to arrive by mail. Vendors pay a one-time set-up fee to have their own booth on the site. Classified ads start at $10, and a pair of purple lace-up Justin boots is available.
Gibson said many of the vendors featured on her site live in rural areas, hundreds of miles from the actual tradeshows that used to be their only marketing recourse.
“Some of them don’t even have computers,” she said.
Take that as another reason why Gibson’s services are valuable.
Gibson said she learned about the world of Western fashion from her experiences in the real world. She has horses, she rides them and she’s traveled the country competing in reining contests, visiting tradeshows and making connections. The contacts she’s made have been valuable.
“The Western market is fairly small,” she said. “Word gets around.”
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A recent article in the online magazine CyberWorld has led to some exciting opportunities.
“I was immediately contacted by six vendors,” Gibson said.
Those vendors include the woman who designed the cowboy hats worn by Madonna and a designer who creates pajamas for the popular sitcom “Ally McBeal.”
Gibson said the help she’s gotten from the entrepreneurial studies program has been integral to her quick start. Young helped her formulate her business plan and encouraged her to enter the Best Business Ideas Competition.
“She’s been working on this since right around January of 2000,” Young said.
Young said the entrepreneurial studies program now serves about 50 undergraduate students. He said that when it comes to business, failure is expensive.
“We teach you the frameworks that will allow you to increase the probability of success and reduce the probability of failure,” Young said. “That’s what Shana knows.”