Wicks netting clicks
At the same time that dot-coms were imploding, Maria Harbert’s candle-making supply business was heating up over the Internet.
The 40-year-old piano teacher started her company, Moon Glow Candles, in January 2000, after paying $60 for some candles.
Harbert figured she could make them herself.
“I was just going to do it as a hobby,” Harbert said.
She soon noticed a dearth of candle supply sellers in California. People she met in candle-making discussion groups on the Internet asked her to sell wax fruit and flowers, and she put an ad on Yahoo in May. She also designed and put up her own Web site in March.
Now, she has eight employees at a 1,000-square-foot Loma Rica Industrial Park site, and the business achieved $150,000 in sales last year.
She expanded into wicks, wax and a variety of supplies in addition to her fruit and flowers, which she first made in her kitchen. Harbert will soon offer a line of soy candles, which she said burn more cleanly.
“Growth has been our biggest challenge,” she said.
And the Internet has been a big part of that growth, accounting for 99 percent of the sales, Harbert said. Her site has brought in customers from as far as Guam and Venezuela.
While many dot-coms are dead, interest in the Internet among small businesses is not – particularly among those who wouldn’t mind some of the growth-related challenges that Harbert faces.
A series of e-commerce training seminars put on by the Economic Resource Council and the Sierra College Small Business Development Center has drawn 18 businesses. They signed on to hop up their Web sites or build new ones.
Some are retail businesses hoping to chip off a piece of the estimated $32.6 billion in U.S. retail Internet sales, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Though they only account for 1 percent of U.S. retail sales, Internet sales were up 19.3 percent from 2000.
One business attending the training, Saint Clair Bar and Restaurant Supply, of Grass Valley, will set up a Web site to sell its new line of private-label wines. The wines will have a customized label for country clubs, company events, fund-raisers, wedding anniversaries and other uses. The wines will expand the company’s market beyond bars and restaurants in Colfax, Auburn, Grass Valley and Nevada City.
“We are doing the Web site because we have taken on some new product lines that would be appropriate for the retail market,” said Penny Watson, who owns the business with her husband, Robert.
Other businesses that signed up for the training funded by the state Department of Technology, Trade and Commerce’s Rural E-Commerce Program include service and manufacturing businesses as well as retail.
The brick-and-mortar businesses are interested in the Internet because it offers another way to sell their products.
“They see that there’s a possibility of expanding business on to the Internet. It’s another distribution channel,” said Becki Walker, training coordinator for the Sierra College development center.
A high percentage of the businesses already have a Web site and they’re looking to improve it, Walker said. She led part of Wednesday’s training, talking about the importance of firms knowing their markets before embarking on a Web site and teaching marketing research techniques.
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