Joining rush to online commerce: Google workshop helps Northland businesses launch websites

Jack Rendulich went to the free Google seminar in Duluth, expecting to learn about business websites. "It sounded interesting," he said. "I wanted to come and see what it's all about." He was pleased to learn that by the time he left, he would ha...

Angela Stocke
Angela's Bella Flora owner Angela Stocke says her downtown Duluth flower shop benefits greatly from having a well-designed website. She attended Google's web seminar Friday in Duluth to learn how to improve her online presence even more. (Clint Austin /

Jack Rendulich went to the free Google seminar in Duluth, expecting to learn about business websites.

"It sounded interesting," he said. "I wanted to come and see what it's all about."

He was pleased to learn that by the time he left, he would have his own website.

With local and national partners, Google has been putting on the half-day seminars around the country for a couple of years for small-businesspeople like Rendulich who need a nudge or technical help to get online.

"We believe getting online is one of the most important things a business can do," said Steve Grove, a Minnesota native who now heads Google's news and politics unit.


In as little as one hour, participants have a website at no cost to them, with free web hosting for a year and a free local business listing on Google Places.

Rendulich, a professional photographer with his own business, hadn't had a website for good reason.

"I was the last on the block to get a microwave and a DVD player," he said. "So I'm years behind the curve."

But he has sensed that online was the way to go these days. When he gets calls from prospective clients across the country, they always ask for his website address.

"I wouldn't mind getting more business, and I guess that's the way to do it," he said.

The "Minnesota Get Your Business Online" seminar held in the Fitger's Brewery Complex on Friday drew about 110 people from small businesses, nonprofits and other groups. Most were looking to get a website set up.

Sen. Al Franken stopped by to offer his support. He would like to see a reduction in the 59 percent of small businesses in Minnesota without websites.

"It's no longer good enough to be good at what you do. You need to have your business online," Franken told the gathering.


Franken said the Internet is the new Main Street, where 97 percent of consumers go to learn about products and services before buying, according to Google's statistics.

Without an online presence, small businesses miss out on potential customers and revenues that fuel job growth, Franken said.

Mary Larsen, who runs Fish Lake Kennel in Fredenberg Township, said she probably could figure out how to set up her own website but was too lazy to do it.

"This was like a godsend," Larsen said of the Google session. "It makes me go somewhere, and it gets done. I'm hoping I go away with enough to do my own editing."

Because her kennel is small and unique, she wants people to be able to go to her website and learn about it to see whether it fits their needs. She also deals with lost and found dogs and wants to be able to post that information on the site.

Greg Solberg came down from Hibbing for the seminar to get a website set up for the Corvettes North Car Club. The club had websites before but when members who handled them left the club, they took the sites with them. But with some of its 110 members as far away as Thunder Bay, a site is important to keep them informed, Solberg said.

"The outlying members really depend on a website to keep up to date on what's happening," he said.

Some of the seminar participants already had websites but were looking to improve their online presence. They included Angela Stocke, who owns and operates Angela's Bella Flora, a florist shop in downtown Duluth.


She had a website that she didn't like, where visitors couldn't buy anything. That all changed about eight weeks ago, when Stocke launched her new e-commerce site that allows for online shopping. Now she's getting orders from around the country.

"It's a gorgeous site," she said. "It actually looks like my flower shop. Now we want people to go there. It's so beautiful."

Interest in her business has increased since the site was launched. Site hits are up, people talk about it and the shop is getting more calls.

Stocke went to the seminar because she wants to take her website to the next level by navigating more people to it through search engines.

She said the seminar was good for her as well as the man from Cloquet who sat next to her.

"He wanted to get his firewood business online," she said. "He did need this help, and he had no one to help him."
Business is up since Angela Stocke had her business website redesigned, allowing visitors to make online orders. This is the home page visitors see first at (Clint Austin /

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