Yorkshire bakery Elizabeth Botham and Sons has been trading since 1865. Perhaps even more remarkable, is that it has been trading on the internet since 1995.
Its bricks and mortar business comprises two shops with tea rooms in Whitby, and a small village shop and wholesale outlet for specialist products such as Yorkshire bread. The business is very seasonal, catering mainly for the summer tourists wanting to see Heartbeat country.
Owner Michael Jarman was looking for ways to increase out-of-season business when he spotted a web address being quoted on children's TV programme Blue Peter. Since then he has had little time to catch the programme.
He designed and implemented the www.botham.co.uk site himself, gaining so much experience in the process that he has set up another business offering website design (www.webart.co.uk). The bakery already supplied a significant base of ex-pats by mail order so the internet felt like a natural progression. But Jarman warned of the dangers involved. "The internet site is just another facet of the business, it is not a magic bullet," he said.
Selling fresh food is subject to restrictions in the UK, and Jarman takes the prosaic view of coping with what could be perceived as a nightmare tangle of international legislation. He said that, in general, individual retail orders are subject to fewer restrictions than one might imagine. The selection of products available on the site is limited and does not include very short life perishables or chilled goods. Delivery is next day if the order is placed before 11am.
A piece of cake
One of the few difficulties the business has encountered with international sales has been with exporting lemon curd to Australia. The product is not allowed due to its egg content, although cakes are permitted. In addition, certain items of confectionery are not allowed into some Middle Eastern countries.
The site has gone through several incarnations in the past six years. In its early days it made no provision for secure ordering - customers printed out a form which they faxed back to Botham with their credit card details.
Jarman introduced a Secure Socket Layer system, but he found this inflexible, leaving him barely able to cope with a heavy influx of Christmas orders in 1999. Since then he has replaced the system with Actinic Catalog.
The business is run on a small network of four PCs, with the internet ordering system based on one machine. Jarman has fully computerised the bakery's back office, handling invoicing, wages and stock control on the PCs. He uses Sage's accounts and payroll system and a bespoke bakery software package.
Jarman has added features to make the site sticky including a children's section and a video of a cake being iced. He is piloting a scheme to make all the company's goods available to order by local people via the internet or for collection from local pick-up points, although he said that take-up has not been high so far.
For the future, Jarman plans to develop the site steadily by offering more products. He also plans to consider the possibility of making partnerships with other businesses.
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