Houghtaling´s Garage, a second-generation family business, has been in operation for almost 50 years selling new and used farm, lawn and garden machinery. Currently, it is owned and operated by Kevin Houghtaling. Kevin´s wife, Colleen, not only oversees the office, but is responsible for getting Houghtaling´s online and maintaining their website at www.houghtalingsgarage.com.
Colleen, who also has her own side business building personal web pages for a variety of clients, understands first-hand why it´s important to have an Internet presence.
"Clearly, the trend is going toward the Internet in one form or another. It touches everybody- or it will. Ten years down the road, no one will be able to imagine life without the Internet, just like they can´t imagine life without television now."
When Colleen set out to built Houghtaling´s original site, she built it through Tripod.com, a free web page provider, hoping to get a feel for web development without investing a significant amount of money.
"I thought, what am I out except my time?"
Now, Tripod hosts a mirror site for the garage, but she has moved on to a professional web hosting company so her customers won´t be disturbed by the pop-up ads that come with a free hosting service. But she emphasizes that free web hosting services like Tripod can be a low-cost solution for companies getting their feet wet on the Internet.
"I want it to be known that there are other options [for building web sites] beyond what these huge companies say they can do. For just the cost of your time, you can have a site that contains more information about your company than you could ever have in a newspaper or yellow pages ad."
She has frequently run into the misconception that web sites will create instant revenue, a myth she hopes to dispel. More important, she believes, is to view a web site as an extension of your advertising.
"A (web site design) client I just took on thought he had some pretty slick people working on his site. They told him that e-commerce was the way for him to go. He thought that this was going to be a literal cash machine for his business, and he was very disappointed in the results. He said that it had brought him sales, but nothing like he had expected."
The web, she suggests, is not a silver bullet for all companies. She believes that many small business owners might have their expectations set too high if they believe that an Internet presence will instantly generate sales, particularly in rural regions where access to technology lags behind urban areas.
"Where we live, more than 75% of the residents don´t have a computer, and of those that do, only about 50% are online. In many cases, the technology and viability aren´t available right now to fulfill many people´s perceptions of what the Internet can do for them."