Companies turn to e-business to expand market

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Sweet smells led to the sweet smell of success for Terri Neil.


Artemis Botanicals, her chic bath and body shop, became a fragrant anchor among the Shoppes at Quail Acres. Her business had a humble beginning in a not-so-humble environment, Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan, but grew there and gained momentum following relocation to Washington County.


Then in late December, after 12 years in the picturesque complex off Racetrack Road, Neil shut down her brick-and-mortar operation. Her enterprise was electric, but it was trending toward electronic.


“I noticed a shift in how my customers were shopping,” Neil said. “I had a physical store and an online store, and I was seeing a trend of getting more online orders.”


So she shifted her retail focus from one North Strabane Township venue to another – the shop to the studio in her home.


Neil estimates that she now does “about 75 percent” of her business online, and it is “absolutely satisfying.” A number of her peers, and consumers, likely would agree.


There is a mounting multitude of business owners, and big-box retailers, who have seen the e-commerce equation of their operations expand significantly. Shoppers increasingly are jumping onto computers instead of into their cars, ordering in a more convenient, more comfortable and – in some instances – more cost-efficient way. Their feet don’t throb as much, their nerves are less frayed, their need for vodka less acute.


It’s a two-way street that seems to be less congested, less perilous.


The conversion from shop to laptop isn’t for just any merchant, but it has given Neil more time to pursue other avenues for Artemis Botanicals. She also works craft shows, such as the upcoming Covered Bridge Festival, and recently started a gig that probably wouldn’t have been possible if she still had the store – the Phipps Conservatory gift shop.


“When I had the store, I couldn’t do anything else,” Neil said. “I did a Mother’s Day event at Phipps, and they loved my product and asked me (to sell there).


“A store limits you to the area in which you are located. Being online gives you a tremendous customer reach. It has given me an opportunity to reach many more markets, with access 24/7 and 365. Now I can update my website at 3 o’clock in the morning if I want.


“The computer provides easy access to anyone anytime.”


Barb Cyprowski does not dispute that, but unlike her former Quail Acres neighbor, she is maintaining the brick-and-mortar operation of Country Confections Chocolates.


“Because our business is so seasonal, there are limitations to our online presence. It’s about 15 percent of our business overall,” said Cyprowski, majority owner of a shop specializing in gourmet apples and candy made on-site. It’s in North Strabane Town Center on Washington Road, with the website www.countryconfections.com.


That store went online about 10 years ago. Its electronic presence isn’t as significant during the summer. Country Confections’ confections, obviously, are vulnerable to heat, so the store does not ship gift baskets, corporate boxes and other items from mid-June through mid-September to its out-of-state customers.


Online business, however, is generally brisk during the November/December holiday season and other cooler months.


“We are always adding new products,” said Cyprowski, who started the business 16 1/2 years ago in her South Strabane home, was at Quail for about a decade, and has been at the current site for nearly three years.


“We show a lot of pieces (on the website) that you can buy at our store. So you have that customer going online to get information. But you also have that customer going online to order. We try to touch both sides.”


Sweet smells of success also permeate another chocolate emporium, a few miles west of Country Confections and Artemis, and the laptop is a major component. Retail operations manager Norm Candelore said Sarris Candies’ e-business has mushroomed 700 percent since 2007.


“We have a great online business and it keeps growing,” he said.


The iconic Canonsburg store, a big business, initiated its e-service about 11 years ago, making it a round-the-clock resource Candelore appreciates.


“Being online means we’re open 24/7,” he said. “You can go online for shopping, fundraising, corporate, weddings . . . whatever you want, it’s available for customers.


“Sarris is well known in Western Pennsylvania, but it’s also well known to people who moved out who want piece of Sarris, a piece of Canonsburg or a piece of Pittsburgh. We get orders around the clock and around the globe.


“With the cost of gasoline, the convenience of sitting in your home home and having (your order) delivered there, it makes sense. It’s a no-brainer.”


So, obviously, is e-business.


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