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Information highway path to new markets (6/03)

By ANDREW WAREING A small Timmins company is trying to make a big splash online to increase export opportunities.


A small Timmins company is trying to make a big splash online to increase export opportunities.

J & S Engraving, owned and operated by Mark and Kathleen Wixson, produces engraved corporate

gifts, awards and name badges and began as a hobby 15 years ago by Mark’s father Jack.

“I came in about eight years ago and started to work with my father and, a year later, took over the business,” Mark Wixson says. “We moved from a backyard location to a small mall setting...a few years ago, we hired a couple of people full time, but it was too hard on the profit margin so we just went to myself and my wife.

“Overhead has been our biggest challenge,” adds Wixson. “It’s why we recently moved to a smaller location. And, like most small businesses, it’s hard to get financing. The banks say they’re trying to help out the smaller guys, but I think that’s more public relations than practical application.”

When Wixson first started with the company, the Internet was just coming into its own as a marketing tool, but Wixson admits he has always had an interest in online marketing applications.

Over the years, he has developed a couple of Web sites for the company with varying degrees of success.

“I had a friend in the business of Web design and I had him make up an e-commerce site,” says Wixson. “People could place orders and make payments right online. We had a couple of years with little success. I started looking into why it wasn’t working.”

Wixson says he purchased a commercially available Web design program and set about to redesign the company’s Web site. He took out several features, including the online ordering and payment options and added a 1-866 number to the company.

That was four years ago and since then, business has increased by about 10 per cent and orders have been coming in from across Ontario, across Canada and the United States, he says. He receives 20 to 30 more calls a week with some orders having come from as far as Indonesia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia and the Azores.

“When I get the 1-800 phone bill, I’m amazed where some of the calls come from,” he says

“We don’t do a lot of volume out of the area, certainly not as much as we would like to,” Wixson says.

“But we’ve got our foot in the door in getting beyond the (local) market.”

The simplicity of the Web site’s design and the addition of the 1-866 number for ordering are proving to be the real key. Wixson says customers are much more comfortable seeing what products are available easily and quickly with the Web site, then having someone they can talk to on the phone.

People are also still leery of putting personal information such as credit card numbers and payment information online.

But it is the human contact that really sells the company and its products, says Wixson.

“Most clients aren’t aware of the savings they get from the exchange rate,” he says. “They’re not ordering because they are going to get a good deal. One of the main reasons they say they call me is because I’m one of a few, if not the only one, who responds right back to their messages.”

Wixson says he hopes that online leads will eventually become 50 per cent of the business and allow the hiring of a couple of full-time people.