Silio Antonelli is the man who supplies the steaks for the barbecue, the shrimp for the hors d'oeuvres and the turkey for the holidays for some of San Francisco's wealthiest tables.
As the co-owner--along with his brother Dom--of Antonelli's Meat, Fish and Poultry Shop in Pacific Heights, Mr. Antonelli is one of the first small-business owners to attempt to bring his neighborhood store to the World Wide Web.
RUINED MEAT IN HAWAII
So far, his 8-month-old experiment in going global has been a great success, at least by Mr. Antonelli's standards. But it's caused some headaches, too.
Recently, some of his regular customers were vacationing in Hawaii when they placed an order on the Web. The overnight airborne freight got delayed and the meat products were ruined.
"I've never had a complaint on anything I've shipped," said Mr. Antonelli. "But I've had problems [with Internet orders] due to shipping," he said.
However, he's bringing in orders totalling about $4,000 a month on his computer, which is located right behind the London broil and the filets.
SETTING UP SHOP ON AN APPLE
Some are from nearby California cities such as Carmel and Monterey, but many are from as far away as Montana and the Midwest.
"It pays for itself," said Mr. Antonelli of his Web site, based on some $100,000 worth of Apple Computer hardware, including a Macintosh 9600 server. He developed his home page along with a friend, a college computer science teacher, using PageMaker software.
Together, they now have begun to offer their Web-building services to other marketers related to the retail butcher business, such as suppliers of prime beef and lamb. Eventually, those marketers' informational sites will link to Mr. Antonelli's, which will be the only retail source on the Web to buy those producers' products, he said.
SHIPPING CHARGES UP TO $100
To publicize his site, Mr. Antonelli paid a registration fee to have it included on search engines. But he was disappointed with the results. Traffic, usually 2,000 hits per month, was up only about 10%, not the 30% he anticipated from the search engine listings, he said.
Mr. Antonelli isn't that concerned, however. He doesn't envision making a big move to Internet commerce, nor does he expect it to be feasible for many other small retailers. "I don't want to encourage it because of the economics," of establishing a warehouse facility and the personnel to staff it and handle the paperwork, he said.
Although Mr. Antonelli includes a 6% premium on meat prices to cover packaging, which he supplies, shipping charges start at $12 for a few steaks shipped to other parts of California to almost $100 or more for heavy packages to far off destinations.
Due to his shop's dedication to customer service, Mr. Antonelli or other butchers on his staff will call online customers before orders are shipped, sometimes convincing them that it might be better to buy six steaks instead of two since shipping would be about the same.
Still, he doesn't have warehouse facilities or secretarial staff e-commerce requires for functions such as payment processing and customer service.
Although the ruined Hawaii package was insured, Mr. Antonelli, who still waits on customers in his shop, is faced with filing claim documents to get the insurance money.
"There's only so much I can do," he said.
Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.