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Wanted! Success Stories From Main Street

The sweet taste of success! Blair Candy Company, a third generation family business, has taken their company from Altoona to Fargo- through cyberspace.

Blair Candy came to our attention through Dave Dadurka, a staff writer for Distribution Channels, a publication of the American Wholesale Marketer’s Association.

Dave knew that Blair Candy exemplified exactly what we were looking for: a family-owned brick-and-mortar company that has added an Internet component to grow their business.

Blair Candy is a wholesaler and distributor of candy, tobacco, and paper products in Altoona, PA. Patrick Dandrea, who eventually enlisted the help of his sons Ron and Terry, established it in 1940.

The impetus for getting the company online came from Pam Macharola, who was in charge of PR and did much of the company’s buying. She offered to work with the design firm to oversee the production of the site, and now serves as the site’s webmaster, in addition to the other hats she wears.

For over half a century, the company had been thriving. Why, then, were they interested in expanding on the Internet? What did they want the Internet to do for them and their business.

“It was a two-fold thing,” explains Blair’s VP Terry Dandrea. “We wanted to get our name out there. We had an informational section on the site which explained our business, our delivery radius, and we definitely wanted to get that information out to as many people as possible.”

“At the same time, we wanted ordering. We started out small, with a few items that we thought would be unique: some old time candy, candy you don’t see out in stores anymore.”

While their first site did put the company on the map, so to speak, it failed to bring in the new business they had hoped for. Soon, they saw that they would have to take initiative on their own to make the site successful. Even though they were new to the e-commerce world, they found solutions where the web professionals had fallen short.

“The design firm got us up and running, and it was ok,” Says Terry.

“They told us they would put us up where people would find us, because one of our big questions was, hey, we’re a small company, and when you get on the Internet, we’re still a small company because there are so many competitors out there.”

“But we were getting zero hits, no sales at all. We took it upon ourselves to go to Yahoo and get some advertising ourselves, and we had to pay. We had to pay to play on the Internet, but we started getting orders.”

Once the orders started to come in, they decided to take their site to the next level. In addition to extending the capabilities of their e-commerce system, they wanted to make the site easier to change and update. A new company was hired to analyze and redesign the site. They had a number of ideas about how they could rebuild it and bring the technology up-to-date.

“We wanted to get to the next step so we could control our items a bit better, make changes more often. we’ve got that now, but we’ve gone through weeks and weeks of problems to get there.”

Despite their early setbacks, Blair Candy has found its place on the Internet, and their e-commerce goals, to grow sales and increase awareness of the company, have been achieved.

But Blair Candy’s involvement with the Internet doesn’t just end with their web site. They have found that the web is an excellent research tool. They use it frequently to find new (or cheaper) suppliers, to keep tabs on their competitors, and to discover what items are in demand, guaranteeing that their inventory will reflect the items their customers want to buy.

The Internet won’t take the place of actual salesmen and delivery trucks, however. Blair has many customers, particularly retail outlets, in the Altoona area, and they choose to service these clients directly, face to face. What the Internet has done for them is to attract new individual clients, “home shoppers,” who are looking for the hard-to-find novelty candies and paper products that are Blair’s specialty.

Pam explains: “A lot of people are moving out of this area, and they know they can get local specialty items from us, like Mallocups and the original Peanut Butter Meltaways, which are made in Altoona. It has opened our doors to so many people. We have our name out nation wide. We’re on the East coast, but a lot of our orders are coming from the West coast.”

Pat Dandrea, the company’s president, agrees. “we’ve developed a customer base in California, Oregon, North Dakota. It has expanded our business far beyond (geographically) anything that we could have done without it.”

I interviewed over 50 successful long established Main Street companies like Blair Candy, asking many of the same questions that I asked Terry. I was looking for the common denominator, two or three reasons that all of them mentioned for taking their otherwise successful traditional company online.

In addition to having their story published on our web site, where it receives consistent traffic from Web searches every day, they were used as an example of ” best practices” in the book “Doing It Right”, Realizing Your Company’s Potential that we published in 2003 and whose content we recently made available on our web site at no charge.

Now, we are beginning with another batch of business owners who want us to tell their story. We are asking them some of the same questions I asked Terry, to help us tell the stories of Main Street companies developing strategies for continued success in the 21st Century.

The new profiles will also be posted on our web site and some of them will be selected as part of the content in one of the two books we have in process.

Based on our experience doing these interviews we’ve dramatically streamlined the process for this next round. There is a page entitled “Submit a Profile” on every page of our web site. If you or someone you know is interested in knowing more I believe you confined the information you need there.

Wayne Messick wants to interview business owners positioning themselves for success in the 21st Century. Click here for cutting edge leadership strategies for your business.