CARIBIA Q ‘N’ A: EKALALOO.COM

(Originally published at OnePaper.com)

(NOTE: This website no longer exists, but was ahead of its time as an e-commerce concept. With the proliferation of broadband availability and ubiquity of payment options, many Caribbean entrepreneurs benefit from platforms of this type today.)

Serious Caribbean business owners know that ‘click-and-mortar’ outlets create incredible opportunities. Getting started can be daunting in the face of SSLs, DHTML and CGI. Finding an established entity to tame the technology allows for placing time and creativity where they belong: into service and production. eKalaloo.com offers a way for Caribbean businesses to make the leap to e-commerce while building the audience that makes it run. CaribiaDigest.com pays a cybervisit to John Engerman, President: 

There are lots of websites out there that are offering a ‘total e-commerce experience’. What makes eKalaloo.com different?
As our slogan says, eKalaloo.com is Your Global Connection to the Caribbean. We offer an online mall, news, links and other interesting information related to the Caribbean. So in that respect, we are similar to others offering a ‘total e-commerce experience.’

However, eKalaloo.com is unique. eKalaloo.com brings exposure to Caribbean artists, manufacturers, and craftspeople, who can showcase and sell their goods on the site. That way, we can change the Caribbean entrepreneur’s current sales model from a one-time opportunity requiring a physical presence to a recurring sale opportunity that is virtual and can be accessed globally. We eventually hope to help expand the current Caribbean economic model from government and tourism to include manufacturing and global distribution of Caribbean goods. We see this is as a great way to give back to our community.

When was eKalaloo.com born?
In February, 1999, a group of us-all young Caribbean professionals living in the US-began to articulate ideas for a business that would allow us “go back to our roots.” That’s where the idea for eKalaloo.com originated. At that time, we had the right skill-set to start the business-consulting, technical, marketing, and strategic-we just didn’t have a name. For the next couple months, we pooled our resources to finance and organize eKalaloo.com, and we officially launched the site on May 1, 2000.

Your site is pleasant on the eyes and so easy to navigate. Who’s responsible for the design?
The entire eKalaloo.com management team contributed to the look and feel. We pooled our talents and those of a talented web designer to create a site where visitors could find the information they were looking for quickly and easily. But you haven’t seen anything yet. We’re re-launching the site in early November with an even better look and feel, more products, more interesting features and more interactive tools for visitors. We’ll also have other cool surprises, so everyone check us out.

Do you eventually intend to offer streaming or downloadable music samples of CDs?
Yes we do. We’ve begun selling CDs, many of which are hard to find, and our customers may want to listen to samples before they buy. That’s functionality we will be adding in the future. But more importantly, we’re looking to expand our CD collection. So if you’re an artist and you would like to promote your CD at eKalaloo.com, please send us an e-mail.

Your online store has a lot of initial variety. Are there any restrictions to what can be sold at eKalaloo.com?
Since we aim to be the Global Connection to the Caribbean, eKalaloo.com will showcase and sell any Caribbean product that one might find in a store at home. This will include food (which our customers have been clamoring for), clothing, etc. Currently, eKalaloo.com offers art, crafts, clothing, jewelry, books, CDs, and other goods for sale. Again, we are always on the lookout for high-quality, unique Caribbean goods to add to our online store, so entrepreneurs – contact us.

How does one distribute products and services through eKalaloo.com?
To make sure that everyone can sell online, we’ve made the process very easy. First, you need to have a product that “represents” the Caribbean in some way. Then you submit a simple Member application describing your product, pricing, etc. Once the product has been approved, you and eKalaloo.com decide on an inventory level that makes sense. eKalaloo.com acts as the distribution hub and will mail any products that are sold to customers. In fact, eKalaloo.com will design, market and ship products for our Members. You can focus on what you do best – creating your products – and still benefit from the Internet as a sales channel. Interested entrepreneurs should visit us at the Entrepreneur Inquiry Page for more information and fill out an online application. You can also call us during business hours at 1-877-KALALOO.

I notice you took a pro-active stance (development seminars) when it came to introducing potential IBO’s to your site. How effective has that been in terms of percentages?
We held a series of seminars over the course of three days in St. Thomas and St. Croix. The seminars were information sessions on how easy it is to join the eKalaloo.com Member Network. Over 300 business people attended. In fact, the majority of members showcasing their goods on our site today joined as a result of our development programs and other outreach efforts. eKalaloo.com also uses these sessions to identify IBOs, or Island Based Operators, who help us recruit additional Members for the site. Apart from these seminars, we’ve done outreach at St. Thomas Carnival, Carifesta in St. Kitts, and the West Indian Day Parade in New York this year. All of these events brought a lot of exposure for eKalaloo.com.

How would you define the audience you’d like?
When people think of the Caribbean, we want them to think “eKalaloo.com.” The site is attractive to anybody, from tourists interested in Caribbean information or gifts to Caribbean natives living far from home who want to find homemade products. That’s really what being a “Global Connection to the Caribbean” means to us. Right now, we’re more focused on the Caribbean audience, but we will continue to expand our product line and our marketing efforts to include a broader audience. We also are looking to increase exposure for Member entrepreneurs and to provide opportunities for advertisers to reach a targeted, Caribbean audience.

If you weren’t doing eKalaloo.com what would you be up to?
I would most likely be applying my skills and experience to work with the Caribbean community in some way.
Editor note: “We think you’re already on that!”

How did your life prepare you to literally ‘serve the world’?
In high school, I was part of the Virgin Islands calypso band Seventeen Plus, and that really allowed me to express my love for Caribbean culture. Since college, I have worked in the consulting and information technology fields. All of this prepared me to help convert eKalaloo.com from an idea to reality. The rest of the eKalaloo.com team bring additional skills, including accounting, marketing, e-business, project management, IT and web design.

Do you feel that eKalaloo.com answers a greater need than the desire for Caribbean information and products?
Definitely. As I mentioned earlier, eKalaloo.com has a greater mission. We want to build community among the Caribbean diaspora and also improve economic conditions by opening new revenue streams for entrepreneurs. If these entrepreneurs and manufacturers can sell their goods to a wider group, they will have much greater opportunity than they would by relying solely on tourist sales on the island.

In the year 2000, the diaspora is being called upon to echo its own traditions. Which of the Nguzo Saba (7 Principles of Kwanzaa) does eKalaloo.com best seek to initiate?
eKalaloo.com embodies several of the Kwanzaa principles, including:

Umoja (unity): eKalaloo.com unites Caribbean manufacturers and craftspeople on one site, so customers can find what they in one place. There is definitely strength in numbers. Also, eKalaloo.com would not be possible without the team having a united goal of creating a successful business.
Kujichagulia (self-determination): eKalaloo.com is helping Caribbean business people create their own opportunities by becoming less reliant on one-time tourism purchases and taking advantage of the Internet economy.
Ujima (collective work and responsibility): eKalaloo.com is by Caribbean people for Caribbean people. eKalaloo.com fosters collective work by partnering with entrepreneurs to jointly assume responsibility for introducing their goods to a global audience. That way, we also jointly share in the gains.
Ujamaa (cooperative economics): Our goal of expanding the Caribbean’s economic model beyond one-time tourism sales shows that we can work together to improve the economy in our islands using the skills we already have.

Do you realize you have one of the few websites that spells ‘kalaloo’ correctly?
Yes, although there are several accepted spellings for the word. Kalaloo, for those who don’t know, is a traditional Caribbean soup made from a base of kalaloo (or sometimes spinach) leaves. We thought the name truly embodied what we wanted the site to be – a delicious mix of interesting ingredients brought together by natives of different Caribbean islands.