Best of the Small Business Web: Standard Bearer
Company: Quality Transmission Service Inc.
Web address: www.quality-trans.com
Site launch cost: $800
Current technology profile: Netscape Communicator, GlobalSCAPE Cute FTP, Alchemy Mindworks' GIF Construction Set Professional, Hamrick Software VuePrint, Microsoft FrontPage
Why we love it: A transmission expert's advice makes him a local hero and raises his industry's reputation
Categories of success: Utility & Local Site
Business owners with strictly local clientele generally want to know two things when it comes to building a Web site. The first is, why bother? The second is, assuming I bother, what should I do with it?
Bob Jones can answer both questions, and his responses aren't the obvious ones about boosting sales and encouraging repeat business. Since launching a site in February 1998, the owner of Quality Transmission Service, in Tempe, Ariz., has seen only two or three new customers a week bearing printouts of the company's Web-only coupons. That's not bad when you consider that in a good week the six-employee shop services only 14 to 18 cars, but it's certainly not putting Jones on a fast-growth track. And since Jones does only transmissions, he probably won't see those Web-won customers again for years.
But the Quality Transmission site, which Jones built on his own for a pittance after learning the basics from a friend, does something he considers more important than generating revenue. It raises the reputation of his industry -- and his own reputation as one of its fiercest advocates. "This industry is perceived very negatively by the public," says Jones. "Anything I can do to alleviate that is going to help the credibility of us as a company."
Quality Transmission's site is the very model of a local-business Web presence. It offers services to the residents of Tempe: those Web-only coupons, a map to the store, notices of job openings, and information on a school-to-work program that Jones supports. It inspires confidence: open the site and you're greeted by a link to the Better Business Bureau and the company's 17-point code of ethics. And it's informative: it includes instructions for self-diagnosis (Suspect a transmission problem? Check the fluid level and condition), frequently asked questions (How long does a transmission normally last?), and even a quiz (Transmission fluid that looks like a strawberry milkshake could indicate what?). "People don't know how transmissions operate, so they have a very uneasy feeling when they go to someone who is supposed to have an intimate understanding of the subject and that person tells them they're going to have to spend money," says Jones. "We've put these tools up there to give them a better sense of what's going on, so it's not so one-sided."
What Jones does to reassure his in-shop customers he's happy to do for the transmission-phobic world at large -- even if it doesn't net him a dime. Anyone who wants to "Ask Bob" an auto-related question is guaranteed a personal answer, usually within 24 hours. Visitors from Guam, Italy, Canada, Portugal, Germany, the Philippines, Brazil, and all over the United States have taken him up on it: Jones spends close to an hour and a half a day answering questions about funny sounds and sticky transmissions. "For me this is kind of a payback, like community service," he says.
But as much as the site has, Jones thinks, what it lacks is as least as important: namely, sales pressure. "Advertising is mostly a come-on," says Jones. "It appeals to the customer to make contact with the business, and then the business tries to sell the customer something he may not be in a position to buy. I have 35 or 40 pages on this site, and from that customers can learn all they need to know about me and this company. If they can decide for themselves, then I'm happy."