A Web Presence Is the Way to Go
Be there of be square
By Sandy Robins
Finding a pet retailer who doesn’t have a website is a tall order. The Internet is where everyone is listed these days. If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist in the big scheme of things.
“It’s imperative to have a web presence, and it’s become a standard requirement for anyone wanting to operate efficiently in the retail sector,” says web designer and creator Rudy Chaney of www.rdesigncreations.com
, a company specializing in website designs for small retailers. “Whether you are selling pet products or anything else for that matter, the major benefit is that your information is available 24/7 and everybody has easy access.”
Chaney points out that because we live in such an information-driven age, it’s become common practice to “Google” a company that we are interested in doing business with in order to find out more about them.
“If there is no website, there’s that instant perception that perhaps the company is not keeping up with the times and that we may be better off doing business elsewhere,” he says.
Geri Ray, owner of Metropawlis Dog Boutique and Bakery in Milwaukee, agrees.
“Three years ago, when we first opened our retail store in a tourist area in downtown Milwaukee, launching a website was part of our original business plan,” she says. “We had it up and running within the first six months. The Internet is without doubt the retailing trend of the future. You can have the best-looking site on the web, but unless you have a good marketing strategy in place by linking with the relevant search engines so that people can find you easily, you could be wasting your time.”
Fortunately for Ray, her husband, Augie, is involved in Internet marketing and was able to position the company to achieve good visibility on the web. Within a short time, the website was yielding four times the amount of business that their downtown store was bringing in.
Chaney says it’s very possible for any retailer working with a professional designer to have a website up and running within a couple of weeks.
Info Only Versus a Virtual Store
“It’s important to decide whether you want to have a simple informational site or whether your long term goal is to sell products,” Chaney says. “If it’s the latter, then it’s worthwhile building this into your web design plan from the beginning. However, if you have financial restraints to executing everything immediately, the beauty of a website is that you can add anything at any time.”
Chaney says that a small online store is one that sells around 30 products. A selection of goods up to 50 products would be considered a medium-size store and a large virtual shop would be anything beyond that.
What It Costs
Like everything else in the retail sector, competition is the key word among graphic designers and web masters, so prices vary dramatically from a couple hundred dollars for a simple site to thousands for an elaborate one.
Chaney suggests any retailers looking to establish an online presence should look for designs that appeal to them. Most designers put their names on the sites they design and consequently are easy to contact.
For a retailer who is far too busy to handle the everyday logistics of a website, it is important to establish that the designer you plan to do business with will handle everything from registering the name of the site to designing and launching it and maintaining it on a regular basis if required.
Creating a Presence
Dave Braxton is a third-generation owner of Braxton’s Animal Works in Wayne, Pa., a company that has been in business since 1938. Five years ago he launched a simple informational website. This year he revamped it to create a more modern look.
“We don’t sell anything and don’t intend to,” Braxton says. “The mainstay of our business is food, and it’s a difficult commodity to sell online. However, we are using our web presence to replace our Yellow Pages insertions and other forms of advertising that we used to do.
“We have found it to be invaluable,” he says. “It’s a great way for locals to learn about the services that are available to them. There’s no question that even though we don’t sell anything online, it has given us a bigger presence in the retail marketplace.”
Ray points out that one of the biggest benefits of having a strong online presence is that their website sales have carried their brick-and-mortar store financially through the cold winter months.
“Also, the revenue we’ve earned online has allowed us to expand our actual retail store to become a popular outlet for both locals and tourists to the area,” she says.
Where in the past retailers doing well would look at opening a second retail outlet, Ray says that instead they launched a second website specializing exclusively in pet strollers.
“From our general online store we realized there was a market for an independent virtual store focusing exclusively on this commodity,” she says. “The site offers shoppers lots of educational information about strollers, and we are branding ourselves as strollers specialists.”
Website specialization is without doubt the way many online retailers will be looking to do business in the future.
“It’s definitely worked for us,” Ray says. “In fact, we have a third website in the pipeline.”
- If you come up with more than one good business name, it’s worthwhile registering them for future business ideas.
- If you don’t want to employ a webmaster to maintain your site, consider employing someone in your retail store who can multitask and handle it for you.
- If it’s important that all financial transactions are taken care of by registering with an organization like PayPal.
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