Gearing up

Instead of lamenting the declared recession we entered last November, I’ve decided to dedicate the rest of my columns this year to those industries, companies and leaders who are not just surviving but finding ways to be innovative and profitable during these tough times.

Last month, I shared stories of two entrepreneurs who have reached new levels of success by returning to the basic principles upon which their companies were based. Finding success in the basics sounds like a simple idea, but, as with every business strategy, it may not work for everyone.

The antithesis to paring down offers another strategy: Gearing up to take advantage of the development in technology.

Would it surprise you to learn there’s an area of business you’ve probably either thought about trying out or have delved into within the last couple of years that saw a 50 percent increase in profits in December 2001 over the same period in 2000?

Try online sales. Internet purchases were up 15 to 50 percent this holiday season over a year ago, depending whose numbers you believe. While we weren’t buying online groceries or drug store items or reading e-books, we were buying clothing and small electronics and bidding on vintage goods. We were (and are) lured by guarantees of free, fast delivery, discount prices, security and the ease of shopping from our laptops.

Online retailers sold around $13.8 billion worth of goods this past holiday season (again, depending on whose numbers you go by), largely because they figured out how to improve response and delivery times and pricing and stock quantities over last year. Now that many of the kinks have been worked out and consumers have become much more amenable to the prospect of online shopping, the cybermarketplace is ripe for the picking.

The government figured out how to make a profit with online sales well before most private businesses. It’s been selling seized luxury items, military surplus goods and bonds to the tune of $3.6 billion last year. Sure, it’s not competing against its own bricks-and-mortar store selling Lamborghinis seized in drug busts, but the U.S. government has figured out something private businesses are just beginning to believe: Consumers are ready and willing to do business online.

Experts say the economy is headed for a recovery by July. Taking advantage of the healthy Internet marketplace could be a way to a speedier recovery for some businesses.