By April Y. Pennington
Entrepreneur Magazine, September 2005
When the SARS epidemic hit in early 2003, Jeremy Shepherd, founder of online pearl retailer PearlParadise.com, was suddenly inundated with e-mails, faxes and phone calls from Asian pearl farmers offering great prices on shipped pearls. Shepherd, who traveled to Asia monthly to purchase pearls, suspected--correctly--that the prices were due to the SARS scare and travel-reluctant pearl buyers. SARS did give Shepherd pause, but ultimately, he decided the deep discounts were worth the risk: "It was a chance I couldn't pass up."
Shepherd, 31, speaks Mandarin and knew pearl farmers from his buying trips, so he felt completely comfortable venturing into southern China, where SARS had hit hardest. "There was no competition at that point," Shepherd recounts. "Not only did I get great prices, but I was able to secure future harvests as well." PearlParadise.com could now offer pearls at prices far below its competitors'.
Shepherd returned to southern China on a regular basis and saw no competitors there until the following fall. Because he developed deeper relationships and negotiated well with the farmers during that time, Shepherd maintains he still pays "astronomically different" prices than his competitors. With no advertising, PearlParadise.com experienced a 1,000 percent increase in sales for 2004 and projects 2005 sales of over $7 million.