Located in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Emblemtek was incorporated in Ontario in 1980. The 45-employee company manufactures a diverse array of custom-made garment and linen embellishments, personalization and identification products and distributes these from coast to coast. As a small business trying to not only survive but thrive in an increasingly competitive environment, Emblemtek decided to differentiate themselves through a strong focus on customer service: “We wanted to set ourselves apart as a company that other companies can rely on. At the end of the day, our price is about the same, we sell ourselves by the quality of our service” explained David Black, President of Emblemtek.
To achieve outstanding customer service, Emblemtek needed to adopt an enterprise software solution that would seamlessly integrate all aspects of their business. After spending a year in clarifying their business requirements, the company chose to go with SAP. According to David, the software allowed Emblemtek to “better manage it’s workflow from manufacturing to inventory and customer relations management.” In fact the software is so user-friendly that his employees “are not afraid of the software but have become engaged in making their performance better.” For management, the software provides access to information about the finances and operations of the company as it happens. They have become more flexible and responsive to changes in the market: “we have become a much better run organization,” said David.
Before implementing SAP, Emblemtek was using three separate systems to manage its operations, two of which had been developed internally. Sometimes the same information had to be entered in more than one system. This duplicated effort and increased data entry errors. Further, their sales force did not have direct access to customers’ order history.
Features for small businesses to consider when seeking an enterprise solution are access to technical support, options for customization, and the ability to include many processes. For example, by the end of 2009, Emblemtek customers will be able to go online to review their order history and make purchases.
So what does this all mean for Emblemtek? According to David, SAP was the right choice for his company. In the three years since they adopted SAP as their enterprise software solution, the firm has been able to nearly double the number of unique items in inventory and improve communication internally as well as with suppliers. As well, the firm has been able to quickly see and adapt to trends. Further, Emblemtek has been able to focus human resources growth in their sales force rather than clerical support. Finally, Emblemtek has increased its revenues by 30% and its customer base by 40%. “I’m not saying that SAP is solely responsible for our growth and efficiency improvements, but it’s certainly a major enabler in our success,” concluded David.
Marian Hester seized a unique opportunity to support sheep farmers on Manitoulin Island by combining her passions: knitting, spinning and computers.
In the late 1990’s, wool prices drastically dropped and sheep farmers on Manitoulin Island found themselves unable to sell their fleece. Marian knew there was a market for Manitoulin Island yarn and specifically Suffolk wool, so she started spinning, dyeing, and selling it on eBay - the response was overwhelming. Freshisle Fibers was born. Marian then purchased fleece from a few sheep farmers on the Island (including her uncle) and enlisted the assistance of a woolen mill to help with the washing and processing of the fleece. Marian continued to sell the yarn on eBay, but quickly became dissatisfied with this approach to online selling; Marian wanted greater control over her business and the profits. As a result, Marian developed a simple website that featured samples of the yarn and basic ordering information, including her email address.
Marian was not prepared for what ensued - a waiting list of orders too long to handle. Marian knew the time had come for her business to expand – Freshisle Fibers required an online shop that provided Marian with the ability to control her inventory. As a result, Marian spent an entire Christmas vacation (she teaches Grade 4 full time) developing the Freshisle Fibers website (www.freshislefibers.com) to better suit her needs. This required a great deal of time, patience, and especially, research. Marian generated a long list of needs or “must-haves” for her website, including the need for a shopping cart software package that featured inventory control, the ability to use PayPal to conduct monetary transactions, and customer relationship management (CRM) applications for customer registration and monthly newsletters; CubeCart fit all of Marian’s needs. Marian also uses Dreamweaver and Photoshop to maintain her website, and TypePad Pro to support the Freshisle Fibers’ blog. Although Marian uses proprietary software to support Freshisle Fibers’ online presence, she suggests that there are many similar free, straightforward programs available online; the key is to “just get out there!” Freshisle Fibers also belongs to a number of webrings (a community of websites with similar interests). Marian describes webrings as a form of social networking for similar businesses; webrings also serve as a form of online marketing, as they help customers find websites much more quickly and easily. Freshisle Fibers also has its own Facebook profile.
Marian offers some words of advice for anyone thinking about creating a web presence:
Perry and Annette Poeta first began business in Curve Lake First Nation when they decided to turn their hobbies into a professional enterprise by designing and selling a wide range of clothing at various powwows, conferences and other events. Then, when an Elder from the reserve retired, the Poetas took over her log cabin store and started making Native fabric clothing. In 2002, the Poetas decided to concentrate on their growing web-based mail-order business, www.nativefabric.com, which employs an electronic shopping cart. “We do Internet sales of [Native-design] fabric,” Poeta says, emphasizing that doing business over the Web is a different approach than selling from a store. Specifically, the Internet enables the company to do business with customers from across the country, including persons from remote First Nation and Inuit communities from the high Arctic to northern Quebec. The website’s format also allows the Poetas to interact with customers who do not read or write English very well.
Most of www.nativefabric.com’s business is done as cash-on-delivery, “so people don’t need a credit card.” Upon receiving an order, the Poetas ship the parcels out via Canada Post’s Express Post, with insurance on the contents. Thus, the Poetas and their customers are able to use the Internet to engage in business in a way that meets customer needs but is not complex.
Reprinted with Permission. This story appeared in Aboriginal Ontario Open for Business, a publication of the Union of Ontario Indians.
Pangea Collectionwas launched in April 2007 as an online retail store specializing in “distinctive accessories from around the world.” It is owned and operated out of Caledon, Ontario by Patricia Pinkney, who formerly worked in a corporate environment, but desired the flexibility of owning her own business while pursuing her passion for travel, fashion and finding unique fair trade, artisan jewellery. Although not particularly computer or technology savvy, this was Patricia’s motivation to venture into e-business, propelled by the insight that e-business was the future for retail.
Patricia’s business model is e-commerce using an “off-the-shelf” storefront software package that includes a Shopping Cart function. Patricia started with software that was quite sophisticated since it met her particular business needs. However, she also advised that a more basic package, which is often available free of charge through hosting or payment gateway companies, could be a good option while learning and starting out. Other e-business applications utilized by Pangea include a Payment Gateway System, for processing payment transactions, and a shipping module. Initially, Patricia had a developer build her website, but to keep costs down she conducts the ongoing maintenance herself with a Content Management System (CMS), which generally does not require her to have HTML skills, for basic content changes. More complex changes require someone with more advanced technical knowledge.
To increase her online presence and revenue, Patricia also employs several online marketing tools. For example, she finds an email marketing manager (e.g. Constant Contact or Mail Chimp) is very helpful for managing her email database, which can also monitor the success of her email marketing strategy, to understand what works and what does not. Patricia also finds social marketing websites and writing a blog useful to help spread the word, and ultimately help increase her website’s “ranking” on search engines.
Patricia also uses a handy and freely available tool called Google Analytics. It can track who uses the website, where they are from, how long they spend on the site, what keywords they used as well as many other indicators. In addition, there is a search engine optimization (SEO) tool that can be downloaded to your browser for free to evaluate your website’s ranking (as well as many other factors) and those of your competitors. All of this valuable information that Patricia gathers helps her determine where to invest dollars and understand what is working and what is not.
Patricia offers the following tips:
In 2005, quilter and grandmother of four, Judy Dawes had the idea to convert an old farmhouse near Bracebridge, Ontario, into a “ladies’ retreat.” Today, Quilters Mis Bee Haven serves as a year-round quilting and crafter's getaway. The vacation rental’s most notable feature is its specialized sewing room, which supplies guests with eight swivel chairs, two flannel boards (for posting quilts), and a large cutting table, as well as multiple ironing boards and irons.
Quilters Mis Bee Haven has had a web presence since the business’ inception. Although, Ms. Dawes had no prior business experience and no experience with the Internet – besides using it to play the game Mah-Jong online – her children encouraged her to establish a website and promote her business on the Internet. The informational website that resulted from these discussions was built by a family friend, who continues to update the site with current pictures and news about seasonal specials.
By using the Internet as her primary marketing vehicle, Ms. Dawes has been able to target the customers she seeks – namely, professional quilters and craft makers, as well as hobbyists. Interested clients from this specialized market often make their initial contact with Ms. Dawes through the e-mail address posted on her website. Thus, the Quilters website has been essential in attracting business.
From its humble beginnings as a hardware store in 1943, Alexandria Moulding (with its eastern headquarters in Alexandria, Ontario) has grown into Canada’s largest moulding manufacturer.
Close to 10 years ago, Alexandria Moulding detected a trend in the B2B and manufacturing sector. They saw that more and more of the big chains of hardware stores were working with Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and preferring to deal with other businesses that used EDI. To be responsive to their customers’ needs and maintain their competitive edge, Alexandria Moulding adopted EDI technology and, in doing so, ensured that they would keep their biggest customer: Home Depot. But more than this, now clients across North America can purchase their products directly online, and all invoices are automatically generated.
According to Martin Savard, General Manager at Alexandria Moulding, the main advantage of EDI is that it has allowed them to remain competitive with the big players, on top of increasing their customer base. “It’s not like 10 years ago where EDI was nice to have, it is now a necessity. The big players would not do business with you without EDI.” But their investment in EDI, originally with the goal of being responsive to their customers’ needs, has also allowed them to increase their customer base to include companies that only deal with businesses that have EDI. Another advantage of adopting EDI is that it has led to more timely payments of accounts because “payments happen faster when computers talk to each other.” EDI has also allowed the company a more efficient use of staff time and to have faster and better communication with their clients. For example, the EDI system automatically generates advanced shipping notices, allowing the customer to know ahead of time what the shipment will contain, and any changes in the order, resulting in fewer delays in shipment processing (and payments) by their customers.
Learning the system is not necessarily difficult. It has been Martin’s experience that it takes less than a day to train new users on their system. However, running the EDI software does require a person with training in IT as it demands a high level of technical knowledge to install and to make administrative changes. For smaller businesses who cannot hire a full-time IT person, this process could be contracted out.
According to Martin, EDI is now a must if you want your company to keep growing, and the use of EDI will continue to expand as companies (including Alexandria Moulding) are now strongly encouraging their own suppliers to use EDI. Because there is a cost associated with the use of EDI, companies that have adopted it tend to encourage their suppliers to use this e-technology to help them further recoup this additional cost. According to Martin, businesses have to think of EDI as being as much a part of their delivery system as the trucks used to ship the product.
The rocking chairs built by Frank Bray are unique, handmade – and unlike most rocking chairs – consist of only 6 pieces. With a product that can be shipped and assembled so easily, Frank wonders why he didn’t get into online sales earlier. A manager at the online store suggests an explanation, “Frank can build an amazing rocking chair, but he can’t even use the answering machine on the phone!”
Frank’s first move to the World Wide Web was in auctioning off a rocking chair on E-bay, an item which sold quickly, and helped Frank discover that new mothers were a niche market for his rocking chairs. However, Frank soon decided the clientele of bargain hunters on E-bay wasn’t a good fit for Off Your Rocker, which sells original, high quality items. He decided that a personalized e‑commerce website was what his small business needed.
The lesson that Frank would like other small and medium business owners to learn is that a professional looking website is a good investment. When Off Your Rocker first went online in 2007, its website design was overly simple and business was slow. While hesitant over the $600 it would cost to hire a professional website designer, the decision to go ahead has paid off enormously. “There is a reason that you hire some people – plumbers, electricians and even website designers – to do the work for you. You can try to do some of these things yourself, but these professionals have expertise that is beyond our own”. Frank showed the designer some of his competitors’ sites, pointed out which features he wanted, and together they built www.offyourrocker.ca.
Since launching the revamped website last year, business has doubled, attracting a large clientele from the United States and Western Canada. Now, 95% of Off Your Rocker’s clients purchase their rocking chairs online, using PayPal, credit card transactions or money orders. As potential buyers like to email questions about the chairs before ordering, the website is also used to communicate with customers. Frank says this online communication helps to overcome barriers in conveying quality to potential customers – a challenge for many online stores.
The website designer hired by Off Your Rocker was not only useful in starting up the online store, but also in teaching staff how to make minor changes to the website themselves. Gradually, they learned how to manage the day-to-day maintenance of the site and can now make changes to reflect sold out items, add photos of a new design, and adjust prices. The site has also been very useful as a tool to manage logistics. “Before the new website, I was always running between the shop and the house to make the arrangements of a sale” Frank explains. “Now, the website tracks orders and keeps things organized. This has proven important as the business grows”.
With the recent spike in sales, Frank will soon realize his dream of working in carpentry full-time. “Don’t wait for your ship to come in”, Frank says of seizing online business opportunities. “It’s out there and you have to swim out to get it.”
Markham, Ontario-based Rugman.com is an Internet pure play – i.e. a company that sells only over the Internet. It specializes in the import and sale of handmade Oriental and Persian rugs. Employing over 40 people, www.rugman.com was founded in 1998 as a means of enhancing a 50-year old family import and export business through the use of technology and e-commerce. Today, Rugman.com not only sells rugs online, it operates a distribution chain for Oriental and Persian rugs throughout North America. Buying direct, selling direct, and creating a streamlined image processing and logistics system has allowed Rugman.com to cut out the middlemen and pass savings along to the consumer.
Rugman.com began as a brother-and-sister team selling rugs on eBay. Since then, the company has expanded its business considerably, achieving revenues in the millions. Digital imagery and Internet technologies have allowed Rugman.com to photograph, catalogue and display over 12,000 rugs. Plus, a consignment management system allows rug manufacturers from overseas to sell through the www.rugman.com site on a consignment basis, without ever having to leave their shop floor.
E-business has allowed Rugman.com to run its operations from Canada, sell over the Internet into the U.S. and overseas markets, and source its carpets and rugs from around the world. Additionally, e-business has enabled the company to complete a full circle of supply chain and customer management – bringing the consumer as close to the rug merchant as they would be if they flew to the merchant’s country of origin.
Reprinted with permission. Source: www.eleadership.ca/success_stories/success_story_detail.php?entryID=92
About two years ago, Meghan Anderson noticed there weren’t any caterers in the London area that offered online ordering. Recognizing the opportunity to claim a market niche, she started building a website with a friend – a student who had studied graphic design and was looking for a final project. A few months later, Meghan began taking online orders, promising “freshness and quality without phone time.”
Right from the start, www.thechefshat.ca has been fully interactive. Catering customers can view menus and prices online, place orders, receive confirmation of their orders from Meghan, and obtain an invoice, all with a few keystrokes. And by creating an individual profile on the company’s website, customers’ orders and addresses are saved in the company database, allowing for easy entry of repeat orders. Credit cards cannot currently be processed online, but special instructions such as “vegetarian sandwiches only” can be included as text in every order. Finally, those customers who wish to sign up for The Chef’s Hat’s corporate club are entitled to a 10% discount on every order. In exchange, Meghan is free to e-mail them information about new products, process changes, etc.
Meghan’s content management system enables her to easily update her newsletter or change the content on her site without needing to master a programming language. Although she cannot make changes to her site and receive orders at the same time– Meghan has learned to avoid this problem by updating the site on weekends only.
Meghan’s clients appreciate the fact that their companies’ information is stored in The Chef’s Hat’s database. Because they don’t need to re-enter any data, they are more likely to return to the site with repeat business. Clients also appreciate the transparency that the site provides – all delivery charges appear on the website, and client feedback can be sent directly to Meghan online.
The COOK’s companion
Nadine Hughes has always had a passion for cooking and entertaining. Since she would often find herself teaching friends how to cook and sharing her entertaining secrets, she decided to start a small cooking school. After having just moved back from Australia, where Nadine owned a logistics supply chain business with her husband, it was an ideal time to venture out and make her new business plan a reality. Located in Oakville, Ontario, Nadine recognized that since she was not going to have a storefront her business needed a website, explaining “an online presence legitimizes a business.”
Nadine had the basic skills to create web pages, gained from running her previous company, so she thought that developing her own website would be a cost-effective way to “test the waters,” because it would not require very much initial investment. Therefore, with the use of a website building tool available through her web hosting service provider and a bit of trial and error, The Cook’s Companion formally began in 2005 when www.thecookscompanion.ca went live on the web offering cooking classes, recipes, catering, gift certificates, gift baskets and more.
Nadine uses Homestead for web hosting, which is a U.S. based company that provides the necessary applications needed to run her business online, including a ‘site builder’ tool, a content management system (CMS), and an email management system to create mailing lists. For payment processing Nadine uses PayPal, accepting credit cards or debit transactions.
Using the email management software, Nadine has developed a mailing list of approximately 1,000 members. Members who sign up receive a monthly e-newsletter and Recipe of the Week. This type of permission marketing has also allowed her to identify what customers want and where to invest marketing dollars because she is able to monitor her website statistics, such as where people come from, what products the readers are interested in (i.e. classes, menu planning, gift shop, etc), how long they visit the site and whether they are a repeat visitor. Nadine can also determine if readers have clicked on links embedded within e-articles to arrive at her website. Nadine started writing a blog about a year and half ago to help market and advertise her business free of charge. She also writes for several online magazines, either freelance or in-lieu of advertising, which also lends credibility to her business.
Nadine advised that for small businesses, “Your network of people is only as big as you make it – you need to get out of the ‘office’ and talk to people and get connected in the industry.” Nadine has found that attending networking groups and e-seminars, and subscribing to several e‑newsletters, have been very beneficial and the most cost-effective way to learn about e‑business. For example, Nadine belongs to a networking group ‘Women in a Home Office’ which has enabled her to branch out and meet other entrepreneurs to share ideas and lessons learned. E-seminars on, for example, how to maximize your website, networking skills and blogging have also been instrumental to her e-business success.
Overall, Nadine felt that e-marketing was the best thing to come out of The Cook’s Companion’s online presence; “the e-newsletter and ‘Recipe of the Week’ reach many people, and on a regular basis,” which she notes would not be as successful with traditional print advertising. Actually, The Cook’s Companion has been so successful it has prompted a sister company, The Menu Companion, an online menu planner which provides customers with a tailored menu plan of gourmet recipes, shopping lists, cooking instructions, tips, and everything you need to be a great host!
When asked of her biggest e-business challenges, Nadine explained that you need to be “knowledgeable enough to be dangerous” so you must know your stuff; be sure to find a reputable and reliable web hosting company; do the research to know where to invest dollars; and be on top of your marketing by continually checking SEO status, verifying links, and keywords. Finally, make sure all the content is up to date – “you need to give them a reason to keep coming back!”
Francois Bouchard saw a great business opportunity and acquired an existing grocery store in October of 1995. Since then The Country Grocer has become a well known community grocery store and a successful catering service.
Located in the south end of Ottawa and having no rapid growth in the surrounding neighborhood, Francois had to find an innovative way to expand his business. As a result, he established The Country Grocer website in September 1996 with the help of a professional web developing company. Incurring a startup cost of less than
With www.thecountrygrocer.com, customers in Ottawa, Iqaluit, Nunavut Territories and even the U.S have the convenience of groceries delivered to their doorstep. To shop online, new customers register for free, to view aisles, place orders, choose a convenient delivery time and make payments using debit, credit cards or cash. The website database is integrated with the store’s cash system which allows the website to remain current. Among the wide range of customers, the website is especially useful for the elderly, young families and persons with disabilities. Almost one third of the online client base order products and services on behalf of others.
Although managing client expectations and predicting demand has been quite challenging, The Country Grocer’s online business has flourished beyond targeted levels. According to Francois, credibility, timeliness of information, perseverance and consumer friendly service personnel are some key contributors to the success of his online business.
Freshii (formerly The Lettuce Eatery in Canada) is more than a spot to grab lunch – it’s an experience and a destination. Freshii offers healthy, fresh tasting, customizable meals, including designer salads, brown rice bowls, wraps, better burritos, soups, frozen yoghurt, and even breakfast selections like organic oatmeal and yoghurt parfait.
Freshii established its web presence from day one. Founder and CEO Matthew Corrin explained that the presence of a website provided credibility for the business in its early stages, as potential landlords often explored the “Press” section of the website to ensure the company’s legitimacy. The website features and uses many unique e-business applications, including social media marketing through Facebook, Shutterfly and YouTube, interactive customer-relationship management (CRM) applications through the use of an online evaluation form (sent in real-time to Matthew’s Blackberry), and online and text ordering. The website also features a unique nutritional calculator application that provides nutritional information to online users as they customize their meal. Matthew described initially feeling apprehensive about the online tool, but quickly realized that it promoted the company’s intention to provide fresh and healthy food selections. The website address is also printed on store receipts as an additional marketing tool.
According to Matthew, it is extremely important for a business to focus on what it does best – in this case, it does food best. The company employed the services of a third party partner in New York City to manage its online and text ordering in the United States (coming soon to Canada), and also hired a Toronto-based web designer to assist with the creation of eatfreshii.com and host the company’s online presence. Matthew explained that it was extremely important that he worked in close collaboration with the web designer, as he wanted to ensure that his vision for the website was consistent with the in-store Freshii brand.
Freshii’s online presence has significantly impacted the company in an extremely positive manner. The website has specifically allowed the company to utilize social media marketing to target specific demographics, made the company appear larger during its early stages, and also provided an interactive platform for customers within a virtual environment. Its online presence has contributed to the generation of potential franchising opportunities in Texas, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Russia and has also contributed to conducting greener business, an important facet of Freshii’s Mission Green Campaign, through the use of less paper via online and text ordering.
Matthew provides three tips for small businesses contemplating the development of an online presence:
Since 1980, MARIPOSA farm has specialized in the production and marketing of Barbarie ducks, Embden geese and their fine delicacies. The farm, managed by Ian Walker and Suzanne Lavoie, is located in Plantagenet, Ontario, about 45 minutes east of Ottawa. MARIPOSA farm offers country-style fare for Sunday lunch as well as for private groups of up to 50 people in an old barn that has been converted into a quaint dining room. It also sells a wide range of products, from ducks and geese to mousses and pâtés.
Ian and Suzanne decided to create an Internet presence to attract more business and provide information to potential customers. Their website was first established by a professional Webmaster, whose role was eventually taken over by Suzanne.
Although simple in design, the MARIPOSA site provides potential and returning customers with directions to the farm, product information, recipes, a Sunday lunch menu, and a photo gallery. Additionally, the site conveys a listing of products for sale in the farm’s store. All information is available in both official languages.
The website is especially useful for those who need directions to the farm. It also allows customers to make reservations via e-mail and order products from the MARIPOSA store. Credit card processing is not available at this time.
While Ian and Suzanne would prefer access to high-speed Internet, generally speaking, the website has been a “handy tool to have,” giving MARIPOSA the “potential to do more business.”
Second Street Bakery has been a Kenora, Ontario tradition for the last ten years. Ian Ostenfeldt and Catherine Nutley assumed ownership of the bakery in March 2006 and have enjoyed an expanding customer base over the past year, thanks in part to the use of e-business. The Second Street website has enabled Catherine and Ian to reach out to potential customers living in the area. They identify three types of Internet users: those who live in the area but have never visited the bakery; those who are looking for gift ideas for the holidays; and those who visited the bakery during the summer – Kenora’s high season for tourist traffic. Although it is not yet possible to order Second Street’s goods online, customers use the website to contact the owners with orders and questions. Catherine and Ian have received inquiries and sent products to customers in numerous cities and towns across Canada, including Ottawa, Regina, Winnipeg, and Newfoundland. Meanwhile, those who live locally often drop by the store after visiting the website, saying, “We saw you online and figured we had to come in.”
In addition, Second Street is using the Internet to stay abreast of customer preferences. Through their website, Catherine and Ian have launched an online survey to determine what people are looking for when they go for breakfast or lunch. The Second Street team plans to change its menu based on the responses it receives. Other plans for the company’s future include implementing the PayPal payment system, so that customers can place orders online.
Second Street’s owners hired a professional designer to undertake the task of creating their website. However, Catherine and Ian do some of the maintenance themselves – updating their list of specials, for example. Keeping pace with customer requests has been a challenge, but one that is easily addressed by requiring customers to order ahead of time.
When local politician Frederick J. Skinner first built his Gananoque mansion in 1905, he never could have dreamt that one day tourists would reserve his own bedrooms through an online booking service.
While Don believes that having some computer knowledge is useful when building a website, “It isn’t rocket science. The programs that are out there, like Dreamweaver, come with a lot of information in terms of what you can do”. He also suggests that individuals considering e‑business adoption search other websites to find inspiration.
The website for the bed and breakfast, www.sleepyhollowbb.ca, includes information on the history of the house, as well as room rates, directions and even the breakfast menu. Additional pages on wine tasting seminars and links to local cruise lines not only give potential guests an idea of what they can do during their stay, this information also demonstrates the kinds of activities that the owners can facilitate.
Business at Sleepy Hollow Bed & Breakfast really picked up once an online reservation service was put in place. Through this system, clients can see the availability of rooms online, select a date, and pay using a credit card via a secure online transaction. This has dramatically reduced the amount of time the owners spend on the phone – not to mention their phone bills. With a regular clientele that extends from Kingston, Ontario to Paris, France, the online reservation service also means that requests from many different time zones are easily accommodated. Currently 85-90% of reservations at the bed and breakfast are facilitated by the website in some way.
Other benefits of adopting e-business include reduced advertising costs, increased sales of all-inclusive packages, and perhaps most importantly, greater flexibility for the owners. “We began our online booking service just before we went on a two week vacation”, Don explains. “Knowing we had reservations coming in while we were sitting on the beach was exciting.”
So what would Frederick J. Skinner think about his mansion being on the World Wide Web? “His granddaughter came by and was tickled pink by what we had done with the place”, Don reveals. “If Frederick’s granddaughter is happy with our business, I’m sure he’d be happy too!”
Elizabeth Campbell Books was established in 1991 and has grown to become Kenora, Ontario's largest bookshop. The company’s website was established in 1994, and books have been available for online purchase since that time.
Owner Elizabeth Campbell’s foray into e-business was motivated by a desire to compensate for lost business due to budgetary cuts in libraries and schools as well as government job cuts. The Internet provided Campbell with the opportunity to increase her customer base, which, in turn, enabled her to stock a wider selection of books. “I can [now] afford to bring in books that won’t sell in Kenora but that will sell elsewhere in the world,” says Campbell, who has customers from as far away as Mongolia, Iceland, and Africa.
Initially, the bookshop hired a local service provider to build and maintain its website, but as the site became more specialized, Elizabeth turned to a larger design company for assistance. The company designed software that would seamlessly integrate the point-of-sale system in the shop with the website database. As a result, whatever sells in the shop is automatically removed from the inventory displayed on the website, allowing the website to remain current. In addition to providing a catalogue of the company’s stock, the website also features a shopping cart function, a book auction, and a bulletin board of local events.
The main challenge Elizabeth has faced as an e-business entrepreneur has been marketing her website. While she has tried both search engine optimization and search engine marketing, Campbell finds that these marketing techniques only capture people who are looking for specific items. To address this challenge, Campbell distributes ad mail and includes promotional material in the bags of every purchase. She also builds awareness of her website with summer tourists, encouraging them to shop at her store remotely after they return home; sells items over eBay; and collaborates with a group of book dealers who consolidate their inventory and sell items as a unified force on the Internet.
The Internet has enabled Elizabeth Campbell Books to flourish in an economically challenged area by facilitating the growth of the company’s customer base. According to Elizabeth, “If I were relying on just the local business, I couldn’t make it. Having [the Internet] marketplace makes a big difference. And because I have a broader business base, I can bring in more material to my store.” This variety of materials attracts both local and remote customers. “People are amazed at my inventory,” says Elizabeth.
Having taught English as a Second Language (ESL) for 15 years, Olivia Hadar recognized the need for a method of learning outside the traditional classroom setting. Inspired by her students’ desire for “something at their fingertips, as opposed to a car or bus ride away,” Olivia founded English Language Consultants (ELC), an e-business dedicated to improving the English language skills of new immigrants employed in the Canadian workforce.
ELC uses web-based technology to provide clients with round-the-clock access to ESL courses. The company offers a wide variety of courses suited for both individual language learners – who are focused on improving their business English language skills – and established companies, who seek ESL professionals to provide training programs to their employees. While training programs for businesses are still conducted in a classroom setting, ELC’s customized training programs for individuals allow trainers and students to conduct their lessons face-to-virtual-face through the use of web-cam technology. This method of training recognizes the value of having an instructor present – one who can monitor students’ pronunciation and conversation skills in real time – while providing clients with the ability to learn from any location at any time.
Notably, registration and payment for all courses can be done online. The ELC website also features a blog, which highlights the necessity of English skills, language and communication skills as well as a business directory, which enables immigrants to find service providers who speak their language. ELC also offers a “Newcomers to Canada” webpage, specifically designed for Canadian newcomers who need access to useful sites and links that can help them integrate into the Canadian work force. Part of the site includes “Business English Language Tips of the Week” and useful links to language resources for new immigrant employees.
To create her website, Olivia worked with a web designer from the start. The primary benefit that has resulted from her e-business has been the flexibility it allows her clients. Because students can engage in a lesson at any time from anywhere around the world, they don’t ever have to miss a class – rather, they can schedule their lessons around their other commitments.
ELC’s unique “Online Course Management System” employs a database-driven system that aims to improve client relations by providing round-the-clock access to assignments and training material used during the training programs. The Management System also provides business clients with a central database where they can easily access an ESL employee’s language information.
As Kingston’s and Ottawa’s most popular walking tour company, Haunted Walks Inc. provides year-round tours to those in need of a good ghost story and a bit of dark local history. Haunted Walks Inc. was founded in 1995 by Glen Shackleton as a way of creating a job for himself “where he could study local history, meet interesting people and convince total strangers to listen to all of the great stories he had gathered over the years.” Tour favourites include the Original Haunted Walk of Kingston and Ottawa, the Ghosts of the Fort (Fort Henry) in Kingston, and the Ghost and the Gallows in Ottawa; seasonal Halloween and Friday the 13th tours are also offered in both cities. According to its website, the tour company brings in over 50,000 customers to the Ottawa area alone each year.
Haunted Walks Inc. embraced the use of the Internet quite early by establishing an online presence in 1999. Jim Dean, Haunted Walks’ Marketing and Development Manager, explained that the first website was not visually impressive, but it served an important purpose for the company as its main marketing tool. The Haunted Walk website was revamped in June 2008 through the combined efforts of Haunted Walks Inc. and DesignWiz Solutions Inc., an Ottawa-based web-design firm. The site was specifically designed as a “destination portal”, rather than just an informational website.
The current website features many unique interactive components including Haunted Walk TV (which has received over 3000 hits since June 2008), a Director’s Blog, a Teacher’s Corner that features educational materials and tools for educators and students, and online bookings for groups and private tours (the company is currently looking into the addition of individual online ticket sales). The website also features a widget (an interactive virtual tool) that presents the “Daily Tours” in both cities. Haunted Walks Inc. has also embraced the use of social media marketing through the development of two city-specific Facebook Groups, which feature company information, videos, and tour promotions. The website is hosted externally through an ISP, but the company maintains the website internally by using various software applications, such as web development and maintenance software (Adobe Dreamweaver & Photoshop), a web content management system (Adobe Contribute), video and audio editing software for the production of “Haunted TV” (Final Cut Pro), and a file-transferring program (Filezilla). Maintaining the website internally allows the company to keep its website content current, a common challenge for many websites. Jim explained that it is extremely important to have fresh web content; it helps to create the sense of an online community as users frequently visit the site just to see “what’s new.”
Haunted Walks Inc. had a very strong 2008-09 year, in part attributable to the development of the new website; it has been the company’s experience that the majority of customers check out the website prior to participating in a tour. The website has also been useful for hiring purposes, as the hiring process is conducted online through postings on the company website, job listing services, university career centres, and acting message boards; 99% of the resumes received by Haunted Walks are electronic.
Jim suggests that business websites do not need to be elaborate to be successful. However, websites need to present appropriate information for the customer or online user in a logical manner. Although websites need not be elaborate, according to Jim, an online presence is essential for any company.
When she started selling ad space on her new website, Julie Card was told by one of the first business owners she approached that the website would never work. Today, mycollingwood.ca is a prize winning website and a viable business for Julie and her husband Daniel Plouffe.
Before making a permanent move to Collingwood, Julie and Dan had a weekend chalet in Collingwood and were often frustrated by problems in getting up-to-date information about the area. After their move to Collingwood, Julie discovered a lot of little-known gems in Collingwood and wanted to share that information. Her practical business experience told her that she could fulfill a need for information about the area and make money doing it. Mycollingwood.ca was rolled out in 2005.
Mycollingwood.ca makes money by selling advertising space. Therefore, the features on the website must attract a wide and regular audience. In fact, the website is innovative in that it is organized much like a small community newspaper (but faster): Julie goes to events, takes pictures, writes interesting stories and posts it all on the website within a few hours of the event. In addition, the web allows her to post many different pictures, which would be cost prohibitive in a hard copy newspaper (in the last 3 years, she has posted over 72,000 pictures). Julie believes that it is this up-to-date reliable information that keeps visitors coming back, and encourages these visitors to send links to the website to friends and family. Mycollingwood.ca also includes information about what to see and do in Collingwood, a function for booking accommodations, and regular updates about upcoming events in the community.
Julie and Dan emphasize customer relationship management (CRM). Julie and her husband count the number of new and returning visitors, the number of times visitors click on each link or visit a page, how long visitors stay on their website, and can share these numbers with their advertisers. When businesses choose to advertise on their website, Julie and Dan can tell them who they are reaching and how many new or returning visitors have seen their ads or read articles of interest. Businesses also call to tell Julie that they notice increases in the numbers of guests after their information is posted on the site. With this model, Julie and Dan not only guarantee value for money for advertisers, but can track what information visitors prefer and provide it to them.
For Julie and Dan, one of the main benefits of doing business online is that their company has little to no overheard costs. At first, Julie and Dan hired a professional to prepare the structure of the website and create templates. They then taught themselves how to update individual pages to be responsive and able to update the website to reflect events as they unfolded. The software they chose for the website is simple and user-friendly. They have invested in a reliable server to ensure that their customers have consistent access to the website. While they confess that they have “probably made every mistake you could make,” Julie and Dan can now update and run their website.
Julie and Dan offer the following tips:
Seeing a market niche for an online community for audio recording, David co-founded voices.com with his wife Stephanie in 2003. Voices.com is an Internet pure play marketplace that connects businesses with professional voice talents. Radio stations, advertising agencies and Fortune 500 companies rely on voices.com to find and employ voice talents that suit their needs. Currently, voices.com serves over 100,000 clients and 25,000 voice actors speaking over 100 languages from around the globe.
David felt he had to create a website that addressed the unique needs of his clients and voice actors. While the programming for the website was done by a team of professional web developers, the graphic design was done by David himself.
Clients registered on Voices.com have the opportunity to post jobs and select the best talent after listening to auditions from qualified candidates. Upon hiring a voice talent a client can send the script and make an initial deposit using the Sure Play Escrow service. Once the completed recordings are downloaded by the client, payment is released to the voice actor. Voices.com also gives voice actors the opportunity of being advertised around the globe, secure pay and the chance to receive feedback for their work.
With support from Salesforce.com David has been able to enrich his service to clients through the practice of Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which notably contributed to a 62 per cent increase in gross sales. Moreover, the company achieved a remarkable increase of 125 per cent in new sales over the previous three months. The Return on Investment (ROI) attributed to marketing campaigns was a recorded high of 1,189 per cent.
David’s advice to others who are thinking about starting a business online is that the Internet creates great opportunities for identifying niche markets and exploiting these opportunities, and that having a “laser-like focus” on the market is essential to the success of an e-business.
Similar to the business concept pioneered by US-based Netflix, the world’s largest online movie rental service, four-year-old Zip.ca was conceived as an e-business right from the start. An Internet pure play, the company’s simple rental process enables members to select DVDs for rent or purchase from an online list of over 72,000 titles; receive their selections via Canada Post; and then return their rentals, free of charge, via post.
Customers pay their monthly Zip.ca membership fees online by using their credit cards or by making electronic transfer payments.
The processes of selecting DVDs and paying for membership fees are both handled by Zip.ca’s proprietary software, which was built by in-house programmers. All invoices are generated automatically by the company’s in-house systems, and payment information feeds automatically into the company’s accounting software. Thus, Zip.ca has achieved full integration of its web and back-end systems.
Zip.ca is the leader in the Canadian online video rental service industry but, like all businesses, has faced some challenges along the way, according to the company’s Director of Communications, including “reaching out and finding other consumers who aren’t necessarily interacting online as much as the early [Internet] adopters”; and convincing a reluctant Canadian population to conduct business on the Internet. Zip.ca has largely overcome these challenges by working with businesses in related industries, such as Pizza Pizza and HP for co-promotional purposes; and by concentrating its marketing efforts on the promotion of its strongest value proposition, namely, its highly comprehensive DVD library, which features not only the biggest new releases but also obscure, hard to find or older favourites. Notably, Zip.ca has engaged in both online marketing practices as well as offline, traditional marketing practices (e.g., advertising in newspapers and magazines) in order to attract the widest range of customers.