Despite the hype surrounding e-business, in Ohio, the hard facts point to a case study in conservatism.
According to a survey by E-com Ohio, less than 30 percent of Ohio businesses are online and only 15 percent have a Web site. Those numbers may sound low, but they’re only slightly below the national average.
What may be more telling is that 90 percent of Ohio businesses that have some sort of e-commerce initiative derive 25 percent or less of overall revenue from Internet sales. However, almost 96 percent of those surveyed say that revenue from Internet sales has increased or remained constant over the last year.
Beating the street
As with anything, there are exceptions to every rule. Arborwear, a Chagrin-based company that manufactures and sells specialty tree-climbing clothing, is one such exception.
Paul Taylor, Arborwear founder and president, says approximately 40 percent of his sales are the result of orders received via the Internet. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Arborwear has grown by 100 percent each of the last three years.
Taylor says he always planned for the Internet to be one part of his business, but the results have been even greater than his expectations.
“I didn’t think the Internet was going to be such a huge part of my sales,” he says. “I really didn’t appreciate the impact that it would have in the way of exposure.”
For a company like Arborwear, which serves a global-but-niche market, exposure is one of the fundamentals.
“Sales are great, but we are trying to build the brand,” Taylor says. “Your company has a lot more power in the market if the perception of your brand is stronger. We are getting thousands of hits on our Web site. Not everyone is buying, but they are looking at our logo and the unique way we present our product. They are going to remember Arborwear.”
Why time is money
“Initially, we thought that the Internet would be a good marketing tool,” says Skip Summerville of Summerville’s, an Akron-based office supply store.
Summerville holds fast to the notion that his business is relationship-based. But, he admits, what started out as a digital catalog not only has increased sales, it has also significantly affected the company’s bottom line.
“It (the Web site) is more efficient for me, the customer, the bank and the manufacturer,” Summerville says. “It reduces inventory space and time.”
As a result, the company has been able to grow without adding overhead in the form of employees.
As Summerville uses the Internet to facilitate his customer base, Taylor uses it to build one.
“I want to capture the people that look at our site and e-mail it to their friends,” Taylor says. “I want it to be energizing and make people want to try our stuff, get fired up and say, ‘I have to have a pair of those shorts.'”
As he sees it, closing sales is a natural progression.
“Now the goal is to turn those visitors into customers and build our brand through exposure,” Taylor says.
Summerville isn’t worried about competing with large office supply chains or even with other office supply stores on the Web. To him, the Internet is not a means to an end.
“It comes back to who are you going to buy from,” he says. “You are going to buy from the guy you golf with or go to church with.”