- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

HANOVER, Pa. (AP) - Sonny Zeigler, 68, builds furniture the old-fashioned way.

Everything is done by hand - painting, nailing, sanding. He doesn’t purchase high-tech tools.

He doesn’t deal with technology. Period.

Zeigler has been in the furniture business for 31 years and opened his current shop, Zeiglers Country Stuff, 13 years ago in Littlestown.

He doesn’t have a website and hasn’t dared to enter the social media realm.

“I never got excited about the computer, the internet or cellphones,” he said. “I just didn’t.”

This old-school approach to business is becoming increasingly rare. Today, a large percentage of people maintain social media accounts to search out information, and businesses are taking advantage of the online platform to reach customers.

According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, 72 percent of online American adults use Facebook, a site that lets you connect with others through messaging, pictures, links and more. In addition, 31 percent of adult internet users are on Pinterest, which consists of digital bulletin boards that people can categorize into their favorite online findings. It’s mainly visual, like Instagram - an application where 59 percent of its users are on it daily. The app allows people to share videos and photos with their followers.

In a time when most of society is online, many businesses benefit from having an online presence. But some believe they can manage just fine in 2016 without a website or social media.

Word of mouth, foot traffic help business

Drive down Baltimore Pike, and you’ll witness Zeigler working outside his shop.

He takes custom orders for furniture and builds items such as benches, chimney cupboards and farm tables, he said.

Zeigler found that people driving past his store have noticed him working outside and stopped by to inquire about a piece of furniture.

Like Zeiglers Country Stuff, a few other businesses do not have an internet presence but find passerby to take notice. They rely on old-school ways to attract customers, such as word of mouth and location.

When people drive by Main Street and see a food special on the LED screen outside Mamma Ventura Pizzeria and Ristorante in Biglerville, they come in, said owner Claudio Monteleone.

Many people know the shop as Mamma’s, which has been a family-owned business since it opened in 1981.

Monteleone believes in gaining customers from word of mouth.

“We’ve just been here so long everyone knows about Mamma’s,” he said. “It was always word of mouth. If I did something right, people would talk about it, and then more people would talk.”

As a small-town business owner, he knows he could benefit from an internet presence and is open to the idea; he just has to figure out how to do it, he said.

Some media and advertising companies specialize in helping people just like Monteleone.

Jared Bean works as vice president of multi-media sales for MediaOnePA, which handles advertising services for The Evening Sun, where he encounters new clients who might have dabbled in social media but are not sure how to do it on their own.

“The amount of businesses that haven’t figured that out are plentiful in this area,” Bean said. “Some of that is by choice. Some businesses have loyal customers and don’t need to expand that. But many are paralyzed by the fragmentation of ad options. It’s confusing for them.”

The company’s sales representatives work with businesses of all sizes to handle various social media platforms, websites, display advertising and searches, Bean said. With so many options, Bean finds it helpful to identify a business owner’s goals and audience.

“Facebook is by far the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” he said, adding that it has become more common for businesses in the past five years. “What changed with Facebook is that they have a billion and a half users every month. It’s 20 percent of the world. Whether or not they like it themselves, their customers are using it.”

But right now, Monteleone still feels comfortable with his local community.

“People come to me because my product is good,” he said. “I’m blessed with a great business and a great community.”

Mike Gladfelter, owner of Mr. G’s, a homemade ice cream shop in Gettysburg, believes he’s also fortunate to have a great community that surrounds him.

He opened Mr. G’s on Baltimore Street in 2011 and having an online presence was not a priority for his business.

“(Our location is) very central,” Gladfelter said. “We’re in a very well-traveled area; a lot of things work together at this location.”

Mr. G’s benefits from Gettysburg’s reputation as a popular tourist destination, as well as foot traffic from surrounding attractions and stores.

Gladfelter said he doesn’t see the need for a more technological presence. The only social media he uses is Facebook, which is operated by an employee.

If he were stationed elsewhere, however, he would probably take more advantage of the internet, he said.

Zeigler also doesn’t get deterred by operating without an online presence. He said he likes to keep things simple for a simple guy.

“Being on the internet would give me a vast audience, but at my age and as long as I’ve been doing this, I just want to work how I want to work,” he said. “I just don’t want to get overwhelmed.”

It’s true that some businesses can function successfully in today’s era without an online presence, said Katy King, public relations and marketing director for the Hanover Chamber of Commerce.

Shops with established reputations in their communities could have already figured out how to do business when internet wasn’t available and are simply repeating a pattern that works, King said.

Businesses that don’t utilize websites or social media could miss out on customers, she said, but the same could be said for those who don’t reach customers through traditional channels such as mail.

Internet offers additional help

While businesses like Zeiglers, Mamma’s and Mr. G’s embrace the little-to-no-internet approach, others see the addition of an online presence as a benefit to their business.

Marty Mummert Studios, a shop that sells owner Marty Mummert’s signs, logos and artwork, is also located in Gettysburg. Although the store is situated in a bustling borough, Mummert believes having a website and social media accounts helps him add to the business’s success.

He started to create his online presence in early 2000 to showcase his artwork that he displays in his shop. He participated in trade shows around the U.S. and realized he had to develop a website for people to see his creations outside of shows.

Mummert started with Facebook five years ago, he said. But because he’s a visual person, he also likes to keep an Instagram that he can fill with pictures of his most current work.

When businesses create an online profile, King said, they are creating a virtual storefront.

“It’s like a free website,” she said.

Another business that uses social media to share information is New Oxford Coffee Company and Visitor’s Center.

The company opened in 2013 in New Oxford’s Center Square under owner Paul Dukehart. Since then, the coffee shop, bakery and cafe has created a Facebook page, website and Instagram account, Manager Catriona Todd said.

“It’s how we connect with current and new customers,” she said.

She is also trying to create a presence on Pinterest, working on a page to engage with people about favorite cake ideas and muffin flavors.

If businesses have the time, money and ability to create an actual website, King said they should go for it. But if they’re not selling products online and just want to get information out to the public, social media can work just fine by itself.

Business owners also need to have a solid understanding of a few applications instead of creating multiple sites without a strong knowledge of how to use them.

“The idea for social media channels is for them to drive people back to the business,” King said. “Businesses have to be strategic in what forms of social media to use and that they align with business goals.”

As for Mummert, he believes he could operate without any form of online existence if he simply counted on front door business. But he wants to keep reaching the country.

Todd has the same expectation.

“People with smartphones usually check to see where they are and what shops are close,” she said. “If someplace they want to go is closed, they figure out where to go next by using websites and social media.”

Other than people driving by, billboard advertisements and word of mouth, Todd doesn’t believe the company would have any other way to reach people without having online engagement.

“Would we survive? Yes. Would we thrive? Probably not,” she said.

Evening Sun reporter Lillian Reed contributed to this report.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1RZpWV1

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Information from: The Evening Sun, https://www.eveningsun.com

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