Now that the Internet has established itself as a must-have component of every business, brick-and-mortar companies are rushing en masse to get online. That's great news for Web-design shops that can jack up their prices. It's not so great for companies that want to maintain the faintest notion of profitability. But the landscape isn't entirely bleak, especially for companies that are willing to search for Web developers in unconventional places.

Wayne Carrig, marketing manager of Sealing Devices Inc., found his developer at the poetry and rare-books collection at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Carrig says his company -- which manufactures seals for the automotive, aviation, and electronics industries -- was looking for an economical way to update its existing site.

Carrig had used the collection's tech-savvy services previously to develop a CD-ROM. And when he recontacted Robert Bertholf, its curator, Carrig was delighted to learn that the department also excelled at Web design -- and the $50-an-hour price tag was hard to beat. "Most people were charging at least $100 an hour, some as much as $200 an hour," Carrig says.

Even retailers in search of high-end bells and whistles can cut costs by looking for developers who want to break into the consumer space. Bruce Fernie, founder and chairman of Tealuxe Inc., found massive disparities in price when he started shopping for developers late in 1998. Looking to add a Web component to his Boston-based chain of teahouses, he called a number of design shops and tech companies but discovered little that differentiated one from the next.

Fernie finally went with Worldmachine Technologies Corp., a local Web-engineering shop that specialized in sites for hospitals and biotech companies. Even though the shop didn't have much experience in the retail market, it was looking to diversify, and Fernie felt that it was a good fit. "They wanted to work with us as much as we wanted to work with them," he says. Tealuxe used Worldmachine Technologies for all its technical work but stuck with its own design firm for graphics and logos.

Both sides are pleased with the results. Worldmachine Technologies took the first step toward a more diversified client base, while Tealuxe was able to keep its development costs down to about $100,000.