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Shop Gaithersburg with a click
by Sean Sedam
Staff Writer

reprinted with permission from the Gazette Newspaper - Featured in Gaithersburg/Germantown

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Sept. 18, 2002

Judith Palfrey admits that shopping on the Internet isn't all it's cracked up to be.

"People, they want to shop online but they also want to touch things," said Palfrey, co-founder of Gaithersburg marketing firm Palfrey & Palfrey Associates.

ShopGaithersburg.com, a new online shopping Web site that Palfrey launched Aug. 15, gives shoppers the chance to both look and touch.

The site, which is the prototype for eight other local sites that Palfrey plans to launch, allows shoppers to visit businesses in Gaithersburg without leaving home. Future sites are planned for Rockville, Germantown and Bethesda.

Shoppers can view Web pages in a variety of local business categories including restaurants, antiques, toys and hobbies, automotive repair and hair salons. The site also lists businesses by their location, in Olde Towne, Washingtonian Center, Kentlands or Montgomery Village.

Shoppers can find a business that meets their specific needs without having to travel all over the city to do it, Palfrey said.

The site is still in its infancy, with most categories only listing one or two businesses each, but Palfrey hopes early success will warm more local merchants to the idea of online advertising.

Her initial efforts to recruit charter businesses by making cold-calls and going door to door got mixed results.

"Initially everybody said, 'It sounds like a great idea, but how many hits are you getting?'" Palfrey said.

So she offered a free trial to 12 charter businesses to launch the site.

A month after the site's launch, Palfrey is able to provide prospective members with some early numbers, with which she has been pleased.

"It is just amazing," Palfrey said. "We now have 1,000 individual visitors to the site since we launched and they are looking at over 4,000 pages. That's very significant in a short amount of time."

For $50 per month members get their own Web page built by Palfrey.

In designing each Web site Palfrey creates an online image for each business, taking photos of the business and its goods. It may have printable coupons and can be changed twice a month to reflect changing seasons, sales and special offers.

"The image changes on a monthly basis," she said. "Just like stores change their windows, these pages change too."

ShopGaithersburg.com is designed to be user-friendly. It will soon feature several categories to help specific shoppers, including categories for weddings, home improvements and business-to-business.

"I'm intuitively trying to think like a shopper," said Palfrey, who has been designing Web sites for six years and recently helped build Amtrak's site. "I'm on here, what am I looking for?"

Mike Rasoulzadeh, owner of Atlantic Seafood on Snouffer School Road, said he does most of his advertising through direct mail, but when Palfrey approached him offering a free trial on the site he decided to try advertising online.

It's still too early to tell how successful this new way to market his business will be, but in the first month Rasoulzadeh has had customers bring in coupons from the seafood market's Web page on ShopGaithersburg.com.

He feels that as people rely on their personal computers more, online advertising is becoming more popular.

"People are using [online advertising] more than they used to because more people have computers and it's more convenient," he said.

Palfrey spent 12 years in retail marketing, including as Marketing Director for Beltway Plaza in Greenbelt and Westview Mall in Baltimore.

"I left the shopping industry in '95 because I thought the Internet was going to be the biggest thing going," she said.

She founded Palfrey & Palfrey Associates in 1997 with her brother Ronald Palfrey. She builds Web sites. He is an illustrator and designer.

Palfrey is also looking for members for ShopRockville.com, which will launch in December, ShopGermantown.com, which will launch in May and ShopBethesda.com, which will launch in 2004. She also has plans for sites serving southern Maryland and Richmond, Va.

Palfrey is also serving customers through "Savings Flash," a monthly newsletter that will arrive in 20,500 mailboxes this week.

The newsletter, which will also be posted on the Web site, includes articles by six of the sites' charter members, who will be able to use them to highlight their businesses. Each issue will also focus on particular topics. The first focuses talks to brides and discusses sprucing up for Christmas. Future issues will discuss topics like Christmas decorating and gift-giving.

The newsletter will also focus on a different Gaithersburg organization each month. The first issue spotlights My Breast Friends, a breast cancer awareness organization.

While the site is going through initial growing pains, Palfrey is happy with the direction things are moving.

Her husband, an engineer, "thinks he's going to be working for me in a year," she said.

Call ShopGaithersburg.com at 301-417-9066 today, or send us email at shops@shopgaithersburg.com to learn more about how you can get your business listed with this new exciting online shopping portal.
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