The local family business is getting a digital facelift.
Traditional brick-and-mortar stores still appeal to shoppers, but checkout counters, parking lots and friendly staff aren’t enough to compete in today’s technological world.
Joe Reitemeier, president and chief executive officer of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce, says small business owners are turning to the Internet to supplement their revenue.
It’s not just about building a website and posting store hours, coupons and photos. Local businesses have sites that offer online shopping opportunities.
Jeff Feucht, manager of Brandon Meats, 117 S. Commercial St. in Brandon, said his family business launched www.brandonmeats.com about five years ago.
“It was a necessity,” he said. “People were asking if we had a website. They kept asking for information.”
Customers can use the site to place orders for pickup or shipment, he said. Brandon Meats sends numerous beef jerky orders to troops overseas thanks to the service. Customers who live out-of-town can visit the site to order their local favorites.
Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, a third-generation, family-owned business that opened in 1922, launched its website, www.widmerscheese.com, in 1992. Internet shopping was new at the time, but business articles foretold its success, said Joe Widmer, owner of the shop at 214 W. Henni St. in Theresa.
“Initially we got hardly any orders at all,” he said. “Now, every year we get more and more.”
Widmer’s Cheese processed 5,200 orders last year, a 20-percent increase from 2009. About 4,000 arrived at Christmas, usually the busiest time of the year. Widmer said they were so busy they brought in at least 10 employees.
He attributes the uptick to more consumers shopping online. Buying advertising, using social networking and linking to other websites helps, he added. Widmer ships orders throughout the continental U.S. and Canada, he said.
“It’s almost like having a billboard in different states,” Widmer said.
Fond du Lac-based Bootbiz.com started as an Internet business. It launched in 1997 from a garage, and later moved across from Menard’s. Today, it’s located at 653 Triangle Road, under the parent company JGear, said Stacy Jones, customer service manager for Bootbiz.
Brothers Shayne, Barry and Jodi Beganz run the company, which has grown since its inception. It had 15 employees last year, and now has 20 workers. Jones said it may create more jobs.
About 80 percent of Bootbiz transactions are online, the rest are in-store, she said.
Businesses still have a strong local physical presence.
Bootbiz may have started online, but it opened a retail establishment to meet demand, Jones said.
Widmer Cheese’s site lets viewers learn how to schedule a tour and discover the family’s history. According to its site, Widmer Cheese invites the public to see “Wisconsin’s only cheese factory still using real bricks to press their brick cheese. The product is so authentic that we’re still using the same bricks Gramps Widmer used in 1922.”
Compared to in-person sales, the web is a small world for Brandon Meats.
“Our retail store is still 95 percent of our business,” Feucht said.