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Up against giant Amazon, Clickstop expands brands to fuel growth

Clickstop founders Tim Guenther and Shaun Linderbaum were a couple of typical Iowa college kids back in the late 90s, at a time when Wade Arnold of T8 was also bumming around the hallowed entrepreneurial grounds of the University of Northern Iowa. Incidentally, yours truly was also a “typical college kid” at that time. Sadly,

Tim Guenther (left) and Shaun Linderbaum have overseen Clickstop’s growth from a business based in Guenther’s Waterloo home to one that recently moved into a new facility in Urbana. Photo from Clickstop.

Clickstop founders Tim Guenther and Shaun Linderbaum were a couple of typical Iowa college kids back in the late 90s, at a time when Wade Arnold of T8 Webware was also bumming around the hallowed entrepreneurial grounds of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). Incidentally, yours truly was also a “typical college kid” at that time. Sadly, the extent of my entrepreneurial talents was charging $3 for keg beer to pay our heating bill. What was I thinking?

Anyway, things all started for Clickstop, which is now based in Urbana, as a result of Guenther and Linderbaum’s meeting in Dancer Hall at UNI in 1996, back when Nintendo was launching 64-bit technology and somehow Nicholas Cage was winning Oscars.

After college, Guenther and Linderbaum went their separate ways. But they managed to run into each other often enough that when Guenther needed help moving his sales career from the car to the internet, Linderbaum was his first call.

Guenther had been in sales since college, focused mainly in building materials and related items. He gradually made the move from working as a representative for other companies to forming his own distribution company. He was focused on selling home building products, specifically insulation products. The downside of face-to-face sales was taking its toll, so Guenther decided to change his approach to an e-commerce model. He worked with Linderbaum to put together his first e-commerce site, uscargocontrol.com, in 2004. They quickly got into pay per click and search engine optimization strategies to drive traffic and ramp things up. At the time, those techniques were still fairly novel and not nearly as well-refined as they are now.

During all of this early growth, Linderbaum worked in the IT department at John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa and did all of the site design and management work on the side. In 2008, he convinced his wife to let him take the startup plunge by buying into Clickstop and becoming Guenther’s partner in the firm. Linderbaum’s addition to Clickstop marked a shift in thinking, as the firm transformed itself from a cargo equipment firm to a conglomerate e-tailing holding company. Said Linderbaum: “We wanted to move from a great company focused on one product (cargo straps) to an e-tailing force that could operate in all sorts of industries.”

Over the past couple of years, they have purchased and amped up 10 other sites, ranging from cat furniture to belly button rings. As their site portfolio has expanded, so have their operations. As recently as 2007, Clickstop was still based in Guenther’s home in Waterloo. It moved from there to a small office space in Cedar Falls and, eventually, to Urbana. (Left: Clickstop’s stable of brands. Screenshot from Clickstop.)

Now, they have outgrown one space in Urbana and made the move to some new digs outside of town. (Look for a separate piece from me on Clickstop’s new digs as soon as I figure out my new camera, which could take a while.)

“As we’ve grown, we’ve learned that you need to constantly be testing your model to make sure you can compete with the big boys,” Linderbaum said. “In our case, that is Amazon, who continues to gain share on everybody. We’ve had to find our niche within the market and continue to focus our energy on it.”

Clickstop has built an e-commerce empire in the cornfields of Urbana (trust me when I say that there is a much bigger difference between “urban” and “Urbana” than the “a”). But for a firm like Clickstop, and many others on the Prairie, Urbana works just fine.

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