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Local businesses use Web in different ways

Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

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Gail Roloff knows her way around the rural routes of DeKalb County.

As owner and operator of Rural Girl Soups, an online specialty food delivery service, Roloff has found herself dropping off soup to places so rural, they don’t even have road signs. But that doesn’t stop Roloff.

“I can always try to figure it out,” she said.

Based in DeKalb, Rural Girl Soups is somewhat unusual in that all of its transactions are processed online. Her website, www.ruralgirlsoups.com, is a virtual storefront, but businesses across DeKalb County are relying more heavily on their websites. Some, including Pita Pete’s in DeKalb and Sweet Earth Jewelry in Sycamore, use their websites to supplement their brick-and-mortar stores.

Rural Girl Soups’ customers place items in a virtual shopping cart on the website and purchase them through PayPal, an online wallet linked to their bank account.

Roloff receives her online orders, which must be placed by noon on Sundays to be delivered that week, prepares the soups on Tuesdays and delivers them on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Customers leave a cooler with ice packs outside their door, and come home to find the soup waiting for them.

But Rural Girl Soups is more than what the name suggests; she’s added desserts, baked goods and hummus.

“I just started in 2012 [and] I only sold soup,” Roloff said. “Four months after that, people were asking for more.”

The World Wide Web provides only a portion of the overall sales for Pita Pete’s at 901 Lucinda Ave. in DeKalb. Similar to the online ordering process Roloff uses, Pita Pete’s customers can place orders for carryout or delivery with a click of the mouse.

The restaurant, owned by Leslie Metz and Peter Lutz, generates about 10 percent of its sales through online orders, Metz said.

Online ordering services offered through CampusSpecial.com and Foodler.com have made the entire ordering experience much easier for customers and staff for the past seven years, she said.

“I think it’s very convenient,” she said. “Especially if [customers are] at work and don’t have the time to call. And it’s nice when it’s just on one sheet of paper for us.”

When a customer submits an order online at www.pitapetes.com, Pita Pete’s gets a fax with the details and an automated phone call notifying them of the order. They then make the food and send it out as soon as possible, Metz said.

But online ventures aren’t just taking place in the food industry.

Transforming their website into a more e-commerce type of business is something Sweet Earth Jewelry owners Rich and Roseann Para hope to do in the future.

The couple has been using www.sweetearthjewelry.com to supplement its 18-year-old business for about five years, Rich said.

Customers can purchase jewelry from around the world, but Rich said the online inventory is just a glimpse into what’s available at their store at 341 W. State Street in Sycamore.

Rich said less than 5 percent of Sweet Earth’s sales come from their website at this point in time.

The plan is for Sweet Earth to build upon their online business down the road. But right now, he said the focus remains on the local customers who frequent their brick and mortar store.

“It’s a lot of work keeping up with the inventory in the store and the website,” he said. “It’s like having two stores.”

But Sweet Earth, as well as Pita Pete’s and Rural Girl Soups said social media outlets, especially Facebook, continue to play an important role in the way they interact with customers.

All three business owners said they often share specials and promotions on Facebook, which draws in additional customers.

With online and business worlds colliding and constantly evolving, Rich said it’s important to make adjustments when necessary. But he leaves that task to his wife, Roseann.

“She is constantly doing different things on Facebook,” he said. “To be honest, I can’t keep up with it.”

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