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1/18/2004

Businesses improve Net weight

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — An arrangement called “Wildflower Magic” might as well have been renamed “Eye Candy” for the way Bloomin’ Buggy Web site visitors lingered on the image in 2003.

Sales alone told flower shop owner Jennifer Greenwood the earthy-looking bouquet was a winner.

But she got savvy about what caught her customer’s fancy — if not their order immediately — after optimizing her Web site last year through ExTek Computer Services.

The year-old Longmont computer support company specializes in serving small and home-based businesses like Bloomin’ Buggy.

Currently, just 10 percent of its work stems from Web site design, hosting, maintenance and tweaking, according to president Tim Mosher, who co-owns ExTek with Jeramie Marghiem, vice president.

But customers such as Greenwood give ExTek rave reviews for making the most of a Web presence. Besides generating formerly veiled statistical information — visitor habits ranging from time spent at an image or page to links explored to visitor identity in some cases — Mosher can strategically cluster key words, register them with search engines and bump clients into the top 10 retrieval list.

“Our primary mission is computer support so small businesses can do the things larger companies can do,” Mosher said. “We didn’t look at Web hosting and maintaining as our primary business.”

However, that’s the buzz.

In 2002, Bloomin’ Buggy got just two orders off the Internet, Greenwood said. Unbeknownst to her, the original Web designer had loaded “Denver” versus “Longmont” as a key word. Mosher cleaned up the key words and now hosts and manages the site, which currently generates an average of two orders a week. In 2003, Web-related sales accounted for a quarter of Bloomin’ Buggy’s 10 percent growth spurt.

“I was right at the point of giving up on my Web site,” she explained. “Now it’s invaluable to me.”

Before-and-after Web site optimization testimonials come from Fortune 500 companies, too, according to Dick Shinton, senior business advisor of the Denver-based Focus Logic marketing firm. While it still uses conventional marketing tools such as brochures and other trade services to help clients reach customers, 75 percent to 80 percent of its business today related directly to the Internet.

“Companies first looked at the Web like it was another place to put an ad, like it was a newspaper or magazine,” he explained. “We look at the Internet as a real revenue generating tool — not just as something sitting out there because everyone has a Web site now.”

In addition to big-fish customers such as Louisville-based StorageTek, Focus Logic also serves small fries such as Longmont’s Left Hand & Tabernash Brewing Company, which established its first Web site in 2000.

The original site never generated more than 1 percent of annual sales of merchandise, such as logo-stamped T-shirts and tap handles for home bars, according to Justine Miller, the brewery’s retail manager.

Consequently, she said, Left Hand decided to overhaul the site.

When re-launched in late January, it will include a secure shopping cart. Before, Web visitors needed to download and print an order form and either mail or fax it in for security purposes, Miller explained.

Besides enhancing functionality, she continued, the new site will convey the company’s personality more creatively. Beer pours down the screen during pauses and tiny tap handles will replace boxy bullet points.

“The new site’s going to have more of a pub atmosphere, which helps,” she said. “We would be ecstatic with any increase (in sales from the site).”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com