Online and secure: Shelters spur Montgomery company to start website after 35 years [Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.]
(Montgomery Advertiser (AL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 03--Steve Pitts was sold on the value of a good storm shelter long before he started making them.
Two years ago, a tornado dealt his Lowndes County home a glancing blow, leveling nearby trees. He and his wife didn't even have a basement, much less a shelter.
"When it hit, it hit like a ton of bricks," Pitts said. "I can only imagine what an F4 or an F5 (would do)."
Pitts is the owner of Three Brothers Fabricating, a Montgomery family business that's been crafting pieces for railroad, paper mill and manufacturing customers for 35 years. After a narrow miss from a second tornado last year, Pitts and his son decided on a personal project that turned into a new product: A top-of-the-line storm shelter built to withstand mother nature's worst.
"We said, 'Let's add it to the line and see what happens,'" Pitts said.
But it soon became obvious that people wanted to know why the shelter cost more than some others, and that was a problem. The business didn't even have a website.
Family friend Scott Turner stepped in and set up a site -- 3bfstormshelters.com -- to tell people about the shelters and Three Brothers' other work, while also getting them active on social media.
"Their Facebook had been live one day, and they already had two calls from it -- one from someone who wanted to buy their products, and one from someone who was interested in selling them," Turner said. "There are just so many opportunities for businesses to market themselves on the Internet. You just have to take advantage of it."
Kenley Obas said he often sees businesses that don't do any of that. Obas does website design with Kindred Technology Group when he's not busy with his day job as the associate vice president of information technology at Alabama State University.
"There are more businesses that are not online than you would expect," Obas said. "Either they've never thought about it or they don't understand how it operates.
"You may not know the inner workings of your vehicle, but you still need to have one. It's the same thing with getting online."
He said business needs vary from a simple "storefront" presence to online sales.
For Three Brothers, it was mainly so they could tell people about the quality and features of their shelters -- things like thicker steel, better ventilation and even high-definition television capability that they believe will help buyers understand why they cost more. It takes Pitts and his son three to four weeks to build the bigger model, and it uses twice as much steel as some other shelters.
Details like that are important, but experts said simply having an online presence is equally important.
"Some of them think they don't need to be online if they have a local business," Obas said. "Most times, people are searching locally for a solution, not searching nationally."
And they're doing it on the Internet.
"The phone book's just dead," Turner said. "You don't get calls out of the phone book these days, and unless you're on the Internet and people can search for you, they're not going to call you unless you've reached out to them personally."
Businesses that want some help and want it for free can go to score.org and request a mentor. A local volunteer chapter at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Resource Center includes attorneys, retired marketing executives, bankers and others who can assess the needs of a business and help them as long as they need it at no cost.
It's a service that SBRC executive director Douglas Jones said could help a lot of business owners. He said some business owners that he runs across need help engaging new clients online and staying relevant, while others could use advice on website design.
"A lot of times you can tell sites that people have built themselves," Jones said with a chuckle. "It's like business cards people have made themselves."
(c)2013 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)
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