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December 19, 2007

 

Businesses find growth in online sales

Local retailers such as WebClothes have seen steady annual increase from Internet revenue

webclothes

Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Orders are stacked up as Anne Strom packs the orders in the shipping department at WebClothes on south Main Street Tuesday morning. The business, which sells children’s clothes, does about 99 percent of its sales online.

By CHRISTINE LAUBENSTEIN
Staff Reporter
claubenstein@cortlandstandard.net

As people make their last-minute Christmas orders online, Dee Anderson and her staff have their hands full.
“It’s been crazy,” Anderson said Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve been working all day trying to keep up.”
Anderson, who had been helping pack boxes, is the chief executive director of WebClothes.com, an online retailer of children’s clothes on south Main Street in Cortland.
Since WebClothes was founded in 1997, and went online in 1998, it has increased its sales every year, added staff and improved the efficiency of the operation.
Other local companies, such as the Homer Men and Boys’ Store on South Main Street in Homer and Shaw & Boehler Florist on Clinton Street in Cortland, have also seen similar growth from Internet sales.
According to the National Retail Federation, national 2007 online sales are expected to rise 18 percent to $259.1 billion.
WebClothes, which gets 99 percent of its sales through the Internet, as opposed to its south Main Street store, sees yearly Internet sales growth of between 10 and 20 percent.
That’s much smaller growth than it saw in its early days, with many more competitors today, but it’s still something to be proud of, Anderson said.
Sales growth has helped allow the company increase from four part-time staff to five full-time and 10 part-time staff, she said.
Anderson said in order to guarantee continued success the company is always improving its Web site to make it easier for customers to find and developing more partnerships with popular online sellers — current partners include Amazon.com, the Navy and Army Exchange Service and Shop.com — as well as continuing to follow trends in the children’s retail clothing industry.
One trend is more public schools across the country are switching over to uniforms, Anderson said, which has pushed the company to start offering them.
“A lot of schools see the value in eliminating the distinction of Johnny has a $100 shirt and Joey has a $5 T-shirt, and that kind of thing,” she said.
Rob Garrison, a manager at the Homer shop, said since the company started selling items online six years ago, online sales have steadily increased so they now represent 30 percent of the store’s sales.
Between 10 and 15 percent of the online sales represent new sales for the business, while the remainder represent a shift from store stales to online sales, Garrison said.
“Each year has gotten better and better,” he said about online sales.
The biggest key to success has been ensuring high rankings on search engines, he said. Certain search terms, such as Carhartt and Levis, both clothing brands, bring homermenandboys.com up high on a list, he said, thanks to a good Web designer.
“It’s really important,” he said. “A lot of times prices are very competitive and so you want yours to come up so people look at it first.”
Garrison said he thinks online sales will be the wave of the future for many local retailers, with a relatively stagnant population. The number of people who can be reached through the Internet is practically endless, he said.
“We did it to stay competitive,” Garrison said, noting store owner Roland Fragnoli had the vision. “We’ve been in business 58 years, and hopefully we’ll be staying in business at least another 58 years.”
Shaw & Boehler Florist has allowed customers to buy flowers and other products online for more than 10 years, according to Vicki Bessler, owner of the company.
In the last five years the company has seen its Internet sales jump 50 percent, she said, with more and more people buying products online.
About 30 percent of the sales represent new sales, while the other 20 percent represent a shift from store sales.
“Everybody buys online,” Bessler said. “It’s just the way it is. It’s the millennium. That’s just the way it is.”
The busiest times of year include Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, while customers are evenly split between out of town people buying for local family and friends and local people buying for nearby loved ones.

 

 

 

BDC hires new economic development director

Former director fills new director’s old job

By CHRISTINE LAUBENSTEIN
Staff Reporter
claubenstein@cortlandstandard.net

CORTLAND — The county’s new economic development director is switching jobs with the previous leader, who took his former state economic development job in Syracuse.
Thomas Gillson, 58, of DeWitt, was hired this week as executive director of the county Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency.
He will fill the position Linda Hartsock vacated in September when she took Gillson’s former state job. He starts Jan. 2.
Gillson worked as regional director for the state Empire Development Corp.’s Syracuse office from 1999 until three months ago.
The Spitzer administration switched Gillson, who had been hired by the Pataki administration, to a less prominent position in the office — director of business services.
Meanwhile, Spitzer’s administration hired Hartsock to fill the position of regional director.
Gillson said he could have stayed in his director of business services position, which compensated him about the same as the BDC-IDA job, but he wanted a new challenge.
“It’s something to get excited about, and I’m really excited about it” he said this morning of his new job. “I think I can do some good things in Cortland.”
He said his main goals are to help local business recruit and train workers, a key issue locally, to lobby politicians to lower taxes for businesses and to send quality informational packets to businesses considering moving to Cortland.
“We have to be prepared to do quality submittals to the companies and tell them exactly what we have … such as a site with a 12-inch water main, or a site with a minimum of 2 or 3 acres, and possibly a site close to the Interstate, and all the stats,” he said.
Gillson will earn $82,500 plus benefits. As director of business services for the Empire State Development Corp. he earned $99,000, he said.
The Business Development Corp. hired Gillson from a pool of about 60 applicants, about 15 of whom had been interviewed.
It based the decision on a recommendation from a search committee consisting of 11 BDC-IDA members and business and political leaders.

 

Common Council OKs $16.8M budget

By AIMEE MILKS
Staff Reporter
amilks@cortlandstandard.net

The city Common Council passed a $16.8 million 2008 budget with a 7.6 percent tax rate increase Tuesday night.
The vote was 7-1, with Alderman Susan Feiszli (D-6th Ward) as the only dissenter. If the budget had not passed, the initially proposed 9.8 percent tax rate increase would have taken effect.
The 2008 tax rate is $17.61 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 7.6 percent increase from this year’s $16.37 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The tax levy for 2008 will be $7 million, an approximately 6 percent increase from the current $6.6 million levy.
The tax rate increase was cut down from 9.8 percent, mostly because $335,000 was allocated from the city’s health insurance reserve account instead of the usual $200,000 yearly allocation.
The city’s health insurance reserve is used to pay premiums. Mayor Tom Gallagher said each union employee puts money into the account, which varies by contract, to help pay the premiums.
“We keep enough in there to plan on increases, but this year there was more than enough to pay next year’s premiums and reduce the tax levy,” he said.
An additional 0.2 percent was cut from the tax rate after the Cortland County Legislature agreed to take over the $15,000 cost of paying election inspectors and moving the voting machines in the general election.
The council on Tuesday also discussed ways to build its reserves and pay for emergency repairs that recently developed at City Hall, and the police and the fire departments.
Along with an extensive leak in the roof that was discovered at City Hall last week, City Police Chief James Nichols also informed the council that an antenna for the communications system needs replacing. Also, the Court Street fire station has roof leaks that could  jeopardize electronic equipment, including computers.
“The 2008 budget has already been impacted by things we didn’t know about,” Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said.
Damiano suggested that if the county pays the $30,000 budget for the fire department’s hazardous material response unit — as the Legislature had tentatively agreed to after a series of meetings between the county and city — the council would move the money into its contingency funds to pay for these repairs. The Legislature is scheduled to make its decision at its meeting Thursday.

Councilors vote to cut $50,000 from library funding

The toughest budget decision the city Common Council made Tuesday night was to cut $50,000 from the Cortland Free Library’s budget.
“The library is being funded by a bankrupt community,” said city finance director Andy Damiano. “In what world does the poor support the rich?”
The Cortland Free Library operates with approximately $200,000 of city support annually, but also has a $2.3 million endowment that builds an interest of $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
After about an hour of discussion and with a 6-2 vote, the council agreed it could only allocate the library $150,000 for its 2008 operating budget. The city’s support of $150,000 in the 2008 budget will be down $50,000 from the library’s request of $200,000, the same amount that it received this year.
“This is very alarming for us,” said Diane Ames, president of the board of trustees at Cortland Free Library. “I don’t know what we are going to do to replace that funding … dealing with endowments is a very misunderstood thing for many people and it seems the library is being penalized for its management of its gifts.”
A large percentage of the endowment funds are restricted by donors to specific uses, such as buying books.
Many councilors were reluctant to cut the funding the library expected to have from the city because the council and library officials are uncertain what kind of effect it will have on the library’s operation.
The $50,000 will go into the contingency fund to be used for emergencies and improve the city’s bond rating.
The council agreed that if the library has financial trouble next year, the money could be reallocated to the library, if there is still money left in the contingency fund.
Originally, the city had hoped for help from the county with the annual funding it contributes to the Cortland Free Library, but meetings between the city, county and eventually library officials, convinced county officials it was not their place to step in and fund the library.
On Tuesday, the council suggested that library officials independently go to the county and city school district to ask for funding.

 

 

 

McGraw moves to collect unpaid tickets

Village will request DMV suspend registration for drivers with unpaid tickets

By IDA M. PEASE
Staff Reporter
ipease@cortlandstandard.net

McGRAW — The village Board of Trustees agreed Tuesday night to go after people who have three or more outstanding parking tickets within an 18-month period.
The village would work with state Department of Motor Vehicles to  suspend registrations until the tickets are paid.
Village Clerk Susan McNeill said there is no charge to have the state Department of Motor Vehicles track tickets.
There is a $2 fee for revoking registrations for nonpayment of parking tickets.
“I don’t think it’s going to solve our problems,” said John Ryan Jr., the village’s lawyer. He said some people do not show up for court appearances.
“I think we should do it,” said Trustee Allan Stauber. “It’s going to deter some.”
No one in the village currently has three or more unpaid tickets, said Lori Aiken, deputy village clerk.
 The board also considered a request to restrict parking on East Academy Street.
Ryan said one side could be restricted or it could be restricted on an odd-even basis, so on even days people could park on the side of the even numbered addresses and on odd days on the other side.
Trustee Bill Stiles said if the entire street were restricted, that would create a hardship for other residents.
“It’s a personal thing, and I don’t think the village should get into it,” Trustee Pam Ross said.