By CHRIS YAGELO
Capital News Service
LANSING –Searching for Carhartts clothing online?
Chances are that one of the few places you’ll find it is Getzs Department Store in Marquette.
Businesses across the nation are closing their doors during the recent economic slowdown, but some resourceful stores in Michigan, such as Getzs, have turned to the Internet to stay afloat.
In fact, retail stores across the state are beginning to use online marketing as a new tool to keep current customers and access new markets.
Larry Meyer, chairman and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association (MRA), says that using the Internet is a way for small businesses to stay afloat during the economic downturn.
“Stores are going to have to look for more ways to make money than just people walking through the door,” Meyer said.
“That is where the Internet becomes even more important.”
One business that Meyer singles out as making a successful Internet transition is Getzs (www.shopgetzs.com).
“Stores, in order to survive in Marquette, have successfully developed an online business,” Meyer said.
“One good example is Getzs selling Carhartts clothing online.”
Getzs has made a smooth transition onto the World Wide Web selling Carhartt work wear.
John Spigarelli, manager of e-Commerce at Getzs, noted that growth of its online business spiked when more effort was put forth.
“Our growth rate in the past two years has been about 60 percent,” Spigarelli said.
“The online trade is about 15 to 19 percent of our total business.”
The retail industry is by far the largest in Michigan, doing $128 billion of business per year, according to the MRA.
With the recent economic slowdown, many small retail stores have been closing.
Large chains, such as Kmart, are also experiencing economic difficulties.
The economic slowdown has hit the Upper Peninsula harder than most other areas of the state.
Retail sales in the U.P. fell some in December, a month when they normally rise, according to a recent study by the Michigan Department of Career Development.
That was partly due to the 24.5 percent increase in unemployment from November to December.
Unemployment rose from 10,600 to 13,200 over that time period.
Meyer said the rise was mainly due to a decline in activity by industries based on natural resources, such as mining.
“Less reliance on natural resources means they rely more on tourism, which is seasonal,” Meyer said.
“It is a major problem in places like the U.P., where there is no base economic activity.”
Some businesses have been able to stay afloat by turning to the online markets, though.
“The economic downturn hasn’t affected us as much,” Spigarelli said.
“The Internet business has helped soften the blow.”
Keweenaw Gem and Gift Inc. of Houghton (www.copperconnection.com), a supplier of products made from many different minerals and gems, also has a successful online trade.
Haug’s Jewelry and Collectibles in Houghton (www.upexperience.com) is an example of a store that has been around for more than 100 years and is still going strong, due in part to its entry into the online market.
Both of these businesses have Web sites allowing a buyer to peruse the inventory and shop securely online without ever leaving home.
Online markets are growing at a fast rate, according to Gilbert P. Harrell, a professor of marketing at Michigan State University.
In his book, “Marketing: Connecting with Customers,” Harrell notes that 36 percent of Web users in the United States buy products online and 62 percent browse for product information.
Both Meyer and Spigarelli noted that finding the right niche is the most important part of online marketing.
“The niche is the key if you’re not a large retailer like Wal-Mart or Amazon,” Spigarelli said.
“When we tried to branch out, we were not as successful.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By CHRIS YAGELO