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CORPORATE FOCUS–GenesisIntermedia’s Kiosks Gain Respect on Wall Street

When GenesisIntermedia.com Inc. went public in August, it looked like the initial offering was a bust. The stock opened at $8.50 a share, but promptly dropped to $5 and hovered there for several months. But what a difference a few weeks can make for stocks traded on the red-hot Nasdaq. Since early February, the Van Nuys company has seen its share price rocket to $35 before settling back down to $19.25 on March 17. A $5,000 investment in the company a few weeks ago would be worth $19,000 today. “It’s great. People are finally noticing what we’re building,” said Ramy El-Batrawi, the company’s chairman and chief executive. “There’s a lot of room on the upside.” Genesis, which was founded by El-Batrawi in 1993, markets a number of consumer products through infomercials and print advertising, everything from exercise equipment to audio and video tapes based on the book, “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.” But what has been stirring investor interest is the company’s transition from straight marking firm to an Internet marketing company. El-Batrawi is building a string of kiosks at shopping malls, called the Centerlinq network, that allows shoppers to learn about sales going on in the mall and connect to the Web sites of retailers and other companies that pay to be on the system. Genesis has several of the kiosks deployed in each of 21 malls across the United States, and El-Batrawi has launched an aggressive expansion plan that calls for placement of the kiosks in 80 to 100 malls by the end of the year. The network boasts 20 million page views a month, about 1 million per mall, according to company officials. As the network expands, Centerlinq could be getting as many as 100 million hits a month by the end of the year, said El-Batrawi. “A lot of people have never used the Internet before, and this is right there, in the public’s face,” he said. And unlike other e-commerce companies, “we don’t have to spend millions to build brand loyalty,” he added. Here’s how the system works: As shoppers enter a mall, they can go to one of several of the kiosks (which have 40-inch, flat-panel screens) to view a directory of stores and learn about sales or other events going on in the mall that day. Shoppers who sign up for a rewards program and provide personal information about themselves receive points for using the system, earning prizes such as clocks or other trinkets. Discount coupons for merchandise sold at the mall are printed out at the kiosks. Meanwhile, the mall operator, tenants and Genesis can use the information about customers to mount their own direct-marketing programs. Genesis derives its revenue from fees it charges the malls, as well as from advertisers. The company has signed up American Express and ValueClick Inc. as sponsors, and has an agreement with VentureDirect Worldwide to sell Internet advertising on the Centerlinq network. So far, Genesis has flown too far beneath Wall Street’s radar to warrant coverage by financial analysts, so it is difficult to get an outside take on the company’s prospects. Courtney Smith, chief investment officer of Courtney Smith & Co., has touted the company in a column he writes for CBS.MarketWatch.com, but Smith concedes his company has a position in Gensis. Smith says that, if the projections for the number of page views on Centerlinq hold true, the company could become one of the top portals on the Internet. Smith applauded El-Batrawi’s expansion plan, but said the downside is that the company will likely lose money through most of this year as it incurs installation costs. For the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Genesis reported a net loss of $2.3 million (43 cents per diluted share), vs. net income of $68,965 (2 cents) for the like quarter in 1998. Third-quarter revenue was $8.8 million vs. $1.4 million. The company doesn’t expect to release fourth-quarter results until the end of March. “Once they’re up and running (with the planned installations), you’re going to see their revenue skyrocket,” said Smith. “I’ve already said I think the stock could hit $30 by the end of the year.” When one considers the huge market caps of other e-commerce companies, El-Batrawi said, it’s not unreasonable to think that GenesisIntermedia.com could hit a similar stratospheric share price. “Fast as we’re growing, we’re still just starting out,” he said. “This is not the end by any means.

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