Small Businesses Bank on Traffic of the World Wide Web

Article excerpt

AUSTIN -- Heroes and Legacies hopes that Internet commerce is more than just blowing smoke.

Like many small businesses, the Austin-based cigar seller has launched a World Wide Web site in hopes of generating sales over the Internet.

The company, which markets several hundred cigars and tobacco products from 11 countries, has been generating only about a half- dozen orders a week from the Web site. But Manager Juan Barajas is enthused about its chances for much higher sales. "I think it's going to make money, but we're not there yet," Barajas says. Heroes and Legacies is interested in tapping the 67 million potential customers using the Internet. According to Tom Fornoff, vice president of corporate marketing of IntelliQuest, an Austin-based computer industry marketing research company, the number of people on the Web is expected to continue to grow, reaching 110 million users in another two years. Fornoff says while there are lots of folks on the Internet, there are far fewer buying products online -- only 13 million, or 20 percent. Those buying are now spending an average of $100 a month, but that will more than double in three years, predicts Fornoff, the keynote speaker at the first Electronic Commerce Seminar. One of the big attractions of the Net is the quick exposure to millions of potential customers. A small company with limited capital can reach out to a much broader audience than it usually could afford. A Web site not only offers the opportunity to attract new customers, but it also provides a way for established businesses to protect their established customer base, Fornoff says. He says small- business owners also must consider what will happen if their customers become comfortable buying online and their company doesn't have a site. Much like when an interstate goes into a small town and traffic changes, he says, businesses must weigh what happens if their customers start going to another company that's online. "Will you open up a new `store' and protect your business?" he says. "Whether you open a store or not, a competitor will open one on the Web." Fornoff says small companies considering the expense of building and maintaining a Web site need to give the same commitment to it as they would if they were building another store. "I think the cost may be dramatically less than opening a bricks and mortar store. But the same commitment has to be there or greater," he says. Jo Betsy Vaught, executive producer of interactive services with SicolaMartin, an Austin marketing and advertising company, says a company must give their Web site visibility by putting it in their other advertising and on all company materials -- on voice mail, business cards, direct mail flyers and sales receipts. …