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Shop Talk by Dennis Bergendorf – January 2009


Gee, That’s a Fancy Web You Weave There, Mister
A well done Internet site touts your shop and services.


WE LIVE IN THE AGE OF the “New Economy,” or what is often referred to as the age of the Internet. So it may come as a surprise that a significantly large number of pro shops do not have a Web site. And of those that do, a pretty good chunk don’t do much of a job of selling the shop. The question, then, is why not?

Mia Mestdagh, a Colorado based Web commerce guru (webyodel.com), says there are eight reasons that a retail business (including bowling pro shops) should invest in a vibrant, attractive site. Among those are that potential customers are already searching the web; a site lends credibility; it’s an inexpensive way to promote; your message is out there 24-7; and if done right, it’s a strong sales tool.

As for credibility, Mestdagh says, “Your Web site has a powerful impact on a potential customer’s confidence in you.” If the site is well-done, “it can tremendously increase trust in your company… letting people know that you’re knowledgeable and up-to-date.” Not a bad idea when a customer may be confused about all those ball options and prices that often exceed $200.

There are some good Web sites out there. One belongs to Tom Kelley’s Bowling Pro Shop in Omaha (kelleysproshop.com). The home page features a 14-image slide show that lets the customer see much of the inventory (plus the staff fitting customers). There also are price and item listings of dozens of balls, bags, shoes and accessories, and a page for services and even area tournaments.Tom Kelley Jr., spends four or five hours a month taking pictures and writing copy, which he gives to a webmaster (a friend of a friend), who charges less than his standard rate. Still, major revisions (common at the start of the season) can cost $60 an hour and run into the hundreds.

The four On Track Pro Shops in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area have a comprehensive site (ontrackproshop.com), except that there are no prices on merchandise or services. Scott Pohl says he doesn’t want bowlers to comparison shop without having a chance to sell them. “We’re just trying to get the customer to come in, and we’ll work with them at that point,” he says. This site doesn’t use pictures or descriptions, but links to the manufacturers’ own web sites for graphics and information.

Begin’rs to Pros Pro Shop in Rochester, NY (beginrstopros.com), has a plain site. It’s just a page that invites people to come in, and gives a brief overview of what’s offered. “We’re not doing anything with the site because we just didn’t see it as profitable,” says Brad Buckert, who was one of the first to sell balls on the internet (stressing price), but saw his sales dwindle because of the on-line discounters.

What about email “blasts?” On Track has been sending them out to about 5,000 addresses for a year now (about one every six to eight weeks). It’s essentially text with a coupon that allows Pohl to track response. He says it was a little disappointing, but that things are improving. He only recently added a link to his web site. A web site can be inexpensive, costing less than $10 a month for the most basic service (including a domain name), but things can quickly add up. A professional may charge hundreds or even thousands to design and maintain your site. Graphics usually cost extra. And, of course, it’s almost imperative to contract with a search engine (Google or Yahoo), or your site will be in something akin to a cyber black hole—and each hit can cost you a dime or more.

A web presence can be valuable in terms of building credibility, but does it help the bottom line? The jury is out. For some busy shops with a steady clientele, a tangible result may not be apparent. But for the savvy shop operator who has a flair for marketing, it can be like any other investment, something that puts customers in the shop while increasing the amount of money they are willing to part with.

*Posted with permission from Luby Publishing Inc.




 



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