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Internet and fruit equals profit.
Barry W. Gainer calls himself a high-tech farmer. But it wasn't always that way. His family's fruit business, The Indian River Gift Fruit Co., was a simple operation that changed little through the years--until Gainer juiced up sales by developing an Internet presence.
"I figured it would be a good way for a small business like ours to advertise effectively at a low cost," explains Gainer, CEO of the Titusville, Florida-based business. "But the whole family thought I was nuts."
Still, he forged ahead, convinced that a site peddling oranges was ripe for the picking. He began by researching gift sites, soliciting advice from customers and discussing his idea with business experts on the Net. Then, in September 1995, Gainer launched his first site on America Online (keyword: fruit), and later rolled out a second site on the World Wide Web (http://www.giftfruit.com).
Customers find more than just your average fruit basket here, though. Besides enabling users to order a variety of citrus products mailed directly to their doors, Gainer adds value to both sites by hosting contests, posting recipes and supplying the skinny on the Florida fruit farming industry. Recently, he also began offering fresh products produced by other family-owned small businesses nationwide.
Today, some 25 percent of the company's revenues are generated on the Internet. What's the key to a successful Web site? Says Gainer, "Our success is based on the fact that we're constantly incorporating feedback from customers because we want them to be happy and use us again."
Have It Your Way
First, there were so-called small-business computers. Now, computer companies are specializing even more with servers designed specifically for the burgeoning small-business market.
IBM estimates a sizable 24 per-cent of the servers bought in the United States today are used in companies with fewer than 50 employees. To meet entrepreneurs' growing needs, IBM recently released the AS/400 Advanced Entry. Unlike earlier IBM servers for the small-business market, which are primarily for first-time users who want to share printers and files, the AS/400 Advanced Entry is aimed at small companies with a higher level of needs, says Steve Early at IBM.
"The AS/400 is primarily oriented toward businesses that have had a server before and want to tie their applications together," explains Early. "They can move to the AS/400 system to have all their applications integrated."
Perhaps the most notable feature of the AS/400 is its built-in Web-serving capabilities which, in effect, give small companies the power to host their Web sites internally. The AS/400 also boasts fax and wireless local area network features, as well as the ability to handle many database tasks. Cost: starting at $7,995.
Haven't ventured out onto the Internet yet? Graphix Zone recently launched a new line of CD-ROMs called SmartNet Singles to give Net neophytes all they need in one package.
Each SmartNet Single contains basic Internet service from Earthlink Network, Netscape Navigator 3.0 browser software and an Internet tutorial. You can choose SmartNet Single discs that link you to hundreds of Internet sites on topics ranging from investing to travel to small business.
Pop the SmartNet Small Business Single into your CD-ROM drive, for example, and you get immediate access to sites with homebased business and financing information, business consultants, professional organizations and the latest business opportunities. Also included are special subscription offers to Entrepreneur and Web magazines, and more. Cost: $14.99 per disc.
Graphix Zone, 42 Corporate Park, #200, Irvine, CA 92714, (714) 833-3838;
IBM Corp., c/o Steve Early, 3200 Windy Hill Rd., Atlanta, GA 30339, (888) IBM-9401;
The Indian River Gift Fruit Co., 3570 A. Cheney Hwy., Titusville, FL 32780-2503, (407) 268-1479.