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Florida commercial realtor siphons 5 Web leads a day

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"We're selling a service rather than something tangible. When you think of it like that, five of 2,000 actually is a pretty decent rate." Alan Feldshue wasted no time responding to the Web e-mail from Rockwell International Corp., the aerospace and defense giant. It had all the makings of a quality sales lead.

The e-mail was from a property manager in Rockwell's Seal Beach, Calif., headquarters who found the Web site operated by Colliers Arnold, a commercial real estate firm in Florida where Mr. Feldshue is a sales associate.

"We quantified their needs and talked about their timing," Mr. Feldshue said. "After a lot of work, we signed a lease for 10,000 square feet of office and lab space."

WEB PLAN LED BY CHAIRMAN

Colliers Arnold values the five-year lease at $400,000. The company's fee for the deal was $16,000'or $6,000 more than it cost to set up the Web site.

The Colliers Arnold site is the pet project of Lee Arnold, chief executive and chairman of the Clearwater, Fla.-based company.

"I had a very explicit, written Internet plan that I presented to our people two years ago," Mr. Arnold said. His idea was to make better use of what he calls the company's "information exhaust" - marketing tools like demographic studies, press releases and graphic depictions of available properties.

"Our goal really was to improve our relationships with existing clients," Mr. Arnold said. "But then it started to generate leads."

MOST RESPONSES ARE WORTHLESS

The Web site, which Mr. Arnold said receives an average of 2,000 hits a day, premiered in August 1995.

Mr. Arnold warns realtors thinking of setting up a site that most of the responses generated will be worthless.

"We get people who want us to help them sell their two lots in Lake Okeechobee," he said. "We've had college students looking for help on their term papers."

In real estate, he said, Web sites work a lot like direct mail. An average day of 2,000 hits, he said, might generate five inquiries worth pursuing.

"We're selling a service rather than something tangible," he said. "When you think of it like that, five of 2,000 actually is a pretty decent rate."

Yet in the real estate industry, Web sites remain something of an anomaly.

REALTORS LAGGING ONLINE

Fifty-five percent of the nation's realtors have no access to the Internet, according to a survey released last year by the National Association of Realtors. Sixty-seven percent have no company home page.

Mr. Arnold said even Colliers International, an umbrella group of 144 real estate firms worldwide of which Mr. Arnold's company is a member, is a relative stranger to the Web. Fewer than 10% of the Colliers firms had Web sites up last year, he said, and most of those that did were clueless as to how to use it.

WEB AS COMMUNICATOR

"The Web is essentially a communications tool," Mr. Arnold said. For Colliers Arnold, which specializes in properties along Florida's booming southwest coast, nothing communicates better than numbers detailing the low tax and high growth rates fueling the boom.

Among other items, the Web site includes information on a specific area's business climate, labor pool, consumer market and transportation infrastructure.

ANOTHER WEB LEAD

Most of the demographic information is available free from local economic development agencies. The company also makes sure to list its Web site with local chambers of commerce.

One such link led to another Web-generated deal handled by Mr. Feldshue. As with the Rockwell lease, customer service was at least as important as making online contact.

The Clearwater branch of Atlanta Testing and Engineering Corp. was looking to move to a larger facility. John Hull, the company's office manager, wanted a local realtor to handle the deal.

KEY: QUICK RESPONSE

"So I got Colliers Arnold off the local chamber of commerce list, sent them an e-mail and got a response that same day," Mr. Hull said.

"That was critical. A lot of companies that have Web sites don't seem to ever check them for messages. You wonder why they even have them.

"But Colliers responded quickly," he said, "and we worked out a deal."

Mr. Arnold said the company spent $10,000 to set up the Web site in 1995"'decades ago in Internet terms," he noted. Mr. Arnold said the company uses one employee to maintain and update the site.

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