Exploring The Internet: Is The Web Site Worthwhile?

Departments - Business Management

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November 23, 1999

If you’re not on the web, then your business is in trouble.

At least, that’s what a lot of folks would have businesspeople believe these days. Internet sites have exploded on the scene with hundreds of new ones being developed on a daily basis. In just a short time, it has become commonplace for television commercials and print advertisements to include the advertiser’s website address. Consumers have embraced the value of the Internet as a research tool and some people are willing to purchase products electronically today.

What potential does this Internet boom hold for the lawn care and landscape industry, however? Is there a way for contractors to benefit from having a website, or do you have be selling stock with the phrase “.com” in the name to make money off of the Internet? Several contractors have developed websites – more than 600 at last check – and they report real benefits.

Industry Computer Survey

    Are you managing a computerized office?

    Based on a survey of Lawn & Landscape readers, you do have computers in your office and you're using them for a multi-tude of functions. But that doesn't mean comput-ers have always been embraced within the business.

    Fifty-five percent of the respondents to the survey said they have been in business for 16 years or longer, while just 16 percent have been using computers for 16 years or longer. Admittedly, those numbers could be due in part to the lesser prevalence computers held in the workplace nearly two decades ago, but while 20 percent of the respondents noted they have been in business for 10 years or less, 48 percent of respondents have been using computers for 10 years or less, indicating that companies operate for their first few years without computers.

    About 40 percent of the respondents use between one and three computers in the office, with an average full-time staff between 15 and 20 people, although 24 percent of respondents have more than 10 computers in their office.

    When it comes to computer applications, it was no surprise to see computers handling billing functions for 100 percent of the respondents and accounting fuctions for 96 percent. This was followed in popularity by estimating jobs (60 percent); routing and managing inventory (both at 52 percent); scheduling equipment maintenance (44 percent); and the increasingly popular imaging (24 percent) and computer-aided design (20 percent).

    ONLINE LIVES. Another survey, this one conducted via our website, www.lawnandlandscape.com, took a look at how contractors get online and what they do once they're there.

    An overwhelming majority of respondents – 92.5 percent – have access to the Internet at work. Most respondents (45 percent) access the Internet via a 28.8 bps modem, although 56k modems and 33.6 bps modems are also popular.

    Yet another clear sign of the Internet's growing prevalence in business' lives is the fact that 55 percent of these respondents reported revenues of less than $100,000 annually for 1998.

    The popularity of the Internet with these respondents was obvious, as 61.2 percent said they go online daily, while 26.3 percent are online three times a week or less. Finding a most popular time for some cyber-surfing is a little more difficult, however, as 33.8 percent said they are online most often between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., 33 percent said their time to go online varies, and 27.8 percent said they are usually online between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.

    Media sites were voted the most popular by respondents (44.4 percent), although they certainly aren't the only ones being visited. 24.8 percent said they most commonly visit a variety of sites, while 15.8 percent go online to check out equipment manufacturers'/suppliers' sites and 11.3 percent go online looking for news.

    While more than half of the respondents reported they go online from home daily – 55.6 percent – using the computer at the office is clearly more popular with some as 20.3 percent said they never use the Internet from home.

    The future of e-commerce, or the buying and selling of goods over the Internet, certainly appears promising as 78.2 percent of respondents said they would be interested in buying goods over the Internet. – Bob West

TAKING THE PLUNGE. There is no lack of contractors with websites (see sidebar, this page), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any of these sites are actually making money for the companies.

“I see the Internet as the future and I want to invest in it today,” noted Mark Sharkey, president, Sharkey & Sharkey Landscape Contractors, Parsippany, N.J. “I think it’s important to beat everybody to the punch and be a state-of-the-art company, just like by investing in new equipment.”

While Sharkey is optimistic that having a web presence will boost sales, he’s primarily focused on additional benefits of the site for now.

“A benefit to having a website is the impression of your company it gives other people,” he explained, comparing it to a membership in the Better Business Bureau. “This impresses upon potential customers that we’re more than a bunch of people cutting grass, especially commercial customers with websites of their own.”

“I was initially looking at our website as a public relations or educational type of service for our current customers,” recalled Connie Balint, president, Buckingham Greenery, Buckingham, Va. “But we have a retail flower shop as well and we’ve filled orders all over the country for materials that people have seen pictures of on our site.”

Clean Cut Lawn Care, Chapel Hill, N.C., has picked up some contracts that Randy Brown, owner, traced back to the company’s website.

“We got three contracts in one month from the website,” Brown noted. “We’re in an area that is booming with a technologically savvy customer base where everyone has a computer.”

David Morello, president, David Morello Garden Enterprises, Houston, Texas, places pictures of jobs his company has completed on his company’s website to give prospective clients design ideas or thoughts on how to manage their landscape before he even meets with them for the first time.

CREATING TRAFFIC JAMS. The undeniable key to building a successful website is creating a critical mass of user traffic.

“We have had our site up for more than two years, so the address is on our stationery, our trucks, our Yellow Pages advertising, our newsletter and a sticker we put on the back of envelopes we mail out,” Balint related.

“We created a monthly maintenance calendar that people find to be pretty nice and they come back to the site every month for,” Brown noted, adding that his traffic jumped from a couple dozen hits a day to more than 200 per day after registering the site with search engines. “The calendar tells them exactly what needs to be done on their property for every month of the year, and hopefully they’ll hire us to do it for them.”

“The real challenge is keeping the site updated and getting people to come back and visit again once they’ve already seen the site,” Balint added. “We highlight different plants and projects each month and have a Plant of the Month that is always changing.”

Most contractors’s websites also include an area designed to gather information from visitors in order to build up their prospective client database and follow up their website visit by mailing out marketing materials.

Contractors with websites said the cost to initially develop their sites ranged from $500 to a couple thousand dollars, which is followed by a lesser monthly maintenance fee to update the site and keep it operating.

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