How a small town flag business went online and went international

Mike Cronin standing in front of a USA flag

In this vintage 1990′s photo, Mike Cronin was just getting ready to take Gettysburg Flag business online.

From Upstate New York town to Global Marketplace: How we got our flags off the ground

Guest Post by Mike Cronin

My business, Gettysburg Flag Works, is a manufacturer of flags and flag-related items. Although we love our brick and mortar operation, we realized that we needed a digital presence in order to remain competitive. Our first website launched in 1999 and was more a digital business card than an online retailer. For us at that time, though, having a website made us feel like a “real” company.

We’ve been part of the fabric of our upstate New York community for many years, and our employees are like family. While patriotism isn’t disappearing any time soon, maintaining a business in a small community is a challenge for lots of business owners. However, especially because of my unique product line, I have been able to make a successful transition to online, while still maintaining my business’ home base. What this does is not to detract from my retail store; it provides an additional revenue stream so that I can continue to grow all aspects to my business.

For us, the leap was exciting, but a little scary. Because of the nature of our business, going online meant exploring a host of considerations that we’d never had to consider. For example, we had to suddenly worry about time zones and shipping costs. Customers would come to us at all hours of the day and night with requests, and we had to have the manpower and know-how to be prepared. We definitely made some mistakes, made some apologies, and started to make some money.

What did we learn from the experience of taking our business online?

What we “learned” was something we already knew, but working in a different sphere made us appreciate it more. We learned that business is business.

Our online customers want good service, to talk with a human being if they have a question, quality products and fair prices. Ultimately, isn’t that the same as what our walk-in customers want? We think so. Since we already know what our customers look for in a business, we just had to adjust how to give it to them in a different way than if they’re standing in front of us. We had to figure out the best way to show customers and prospective customers what is unique about Gettysburg Flag Works. If they’re coming to us, rather than going to the competition, then there’s a reason for that.

When we started online back in ‘99, e-commerce was just starting to hit its stride. Today, the platforms make it easier and less expensive for you to dive in to what truly is a global marketplace.

Want to share your small town business story?

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.
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