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Internet office

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  • | 7:27 a.m. April 5, 2013
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Can you sell office furniture online?

Surprisingly, having a showroom helps, says Joe Gammons, president of an office-furniture company in Fort Myers called Office Furniture & Design Concepts that supplies many of the larger corporations in the area.

But Gammons felt he was missing out on a key market: the small-business owner. “We have seven outside sales people, but we're still missing that segment of the market,” he says.

For example, an entrepreneur who runs a small insurance agency might visit a big-box retail store such as Office Depot or Staples to buy desks and chairs. Gammons wants that customer to buy from him instead by visiting his website,

But it turns out that Office Furniture & Design's showroom remains an important selling tool to close a sale. In his tests, Gammons found that about half the customers who shop online come into his showroom on Metro Parkway in Fort Myers to see and feel the furniture.

That's because many small-business owners only browse online. “People aren't buying online. They still want to come to the showroom and sit in it,” Gammons says. A few even haul the furniture they bought themselves. “We're delivering most of them,” he says.

Interestingly, Gammons says business owners who shop online don't delegate the task of buying furniture to others, unlike larger firms. Men between the ages of 35 and 55 make up 69% of the traffic, says Ashley Chaffee, the company's Internet sales and marketing executive. “The boss is taking the time to do it,” says Gammons.

But the Internet is an expensive undertaking. Gammons estimates he's spent about $100,000 on the site's development, which was created by BBEX, a Boca Raton-based company.

Fact is, the Internet is now more of a marketing tool, and a Web presence is essential today. “The phone book's gone,” Gammons says. An added bonus: “You can track everything,” says Chaffee.

Gammons says he can be competitive with big-box retailers on price because he buys furniture by the container load at a discount and stores it in his own 15,000-square-foot warehouse in Fort Myers. And he has delivery crews that can deliver anywhere in the region.

Gammons says he's not worried that online sales will steal business from his commercial accounts. He says larger companies don't buy office furniture online; they negotiate prices for large orders.

Revenues in 2011 and 2012 were flat at about $10 million annually, but Gammons says Internet sales could boost revenues by another $1 million this year. He projects sales of $16 million this year because he also launched a commercial flooring company.

Currently, Office Furniture & Design supplies customers from Sarasota to Naples, but Gammons says Internet sales could push him to open a distribution in the Orlando area. “We're back in growth mode,” he says.


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