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Thursday 08, May 2003RSS Feed
Quad-State Business Journal - Article on DH WEB Inc.

by Yvonne Pfoutz

Working in hotels and restaurants may seem unlikely preparation for running a Web site company.

However, for Dave Hall president of Hagerstown-based DH WEB, Inc., which employs six people providing Web site design, hosting, maintenance and other Internet-related services, that experience is a key to the company's success. "We have a different attitude about customer service because of our background in the hospitality field. We go that extra mile to help."

"Because of our hospitality experience," says Web co-founder and vice president, David Henneberger, 61our core principle is service. For example, at night and on weekends, calls to our business phones are forwarded to our cell phones. If clients have a problem, we don't want them to stew until Monday."

Hall and Henneberger first worked together at the Hagerstown Ramada Inn [now the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center at Antietam Creek] where Hall was executive chef and Henneberger marketed the hotel's facilities for government training programs.

"I got involved with computers when the Internet was just starting," says Hall. "You paid by the minute then; my first bill was $300 for one week."

Frank Turner, then owner of the Ramada, encouraged his chef's Internet interest. "With Frank, we could do our own thing," says Hall. "In 1996, I designed a Web site for the Ramada; we were the first Ramada in America with its own Web site."

Henneberger found that the Web site enhanced his marketing efforts. "I wanted to be two clicks away on someone's browser, not down the hall with an out-of-date brochure in,a file cabinet. The government was all wired so meeting planners could look at our Web site, which had features like a floor plan with different room arrangements."

"Then Frank sold the hotel," says Hall. "It was hard to deal with a corporation after working with one person."

In 1999, Hall and Henneberger started DH WEB, Inc., named after their shared initials. In 2001, the company moved into the Technical Innovation Center (TIC), the business incubator at Hagerstown Community College. In addition to its high-speed T-I lines, another advantage of the Technical Innovation Center, says Hall, are the other technology businesses there.

The portfolio on their Web site (www.dhwebsites.com) lists many site design clients, including Washington County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the Bavarian Inn, Nick's Airport Inn, the Plaza Hotel, the Lynchburg Inn, The Woods Resort, the Fountainhead Country Club and the Black Rock Golf Course in Hagerstown, the PGA Members Club (in West Palm Beach), the Sheraton Baltimore North and the Sheraton Rittenhouse in Philadelphia.

Tourism and hospitality industry customers were a natural, says Hall, "because our original contacts were in that business."

DH WEB has also designed sites for non-hospitality businesses and organizations, including Office Supplies, Inc., HESCO, Inc. (injection molding), Hagerstown Metal Fabricators, Washington County, the Maryland Symphony, several auto dealerships, and the Maryland Space Grant Consortium.

"With the dot.com goofiness over, real people are getting in and finding the Internet works," says Hall. "For example, JES Basement Systems [waterproofing] used to do telemarketing. Now, they only use the Web site, and even in the drought last year, they were getting leads."

I "The Intemetis maturing," says Henneberger. "More people are embracing it. One growing trend is permission marketing. Not SPAM, but a system where people opt in and grant their e-mail address in exchange for something.

"For example, the Easton Golf Course [on Maryland's Eastern Shore], offered a drawing where people could win a round of golf for four people. This gave them qualified leads-e-mail -addresses for golfers. This March when other golf courses were not busy, Easton's St. Patrick's Day Tournament was sold out, and the only marketing they did was announcements by email."

"About 40% of our business is Web site design," says Hermeberger. "Forty-five percent is hosting and maintenance, and 15% is for miscellaneous services."

"We have people come to us who've been raked over the coals," says Hall. "They make one little change on their Web site and get billed for $50. We have a straightforward plan. for Web hosting, with fixed monthly fees and no hidden costs. And statistical data [number of hit and returns] is included, as well as helping them figure out what the data means. We're not the cheapest guy out there, but people get good service."

"Over 100 Web sites and only one client ever left," says Henneberger, "and he came back, eight days later."

Updating Web sites is important. Hall suggests that sites be "changed seasonally, like I used to change menus, with fresh news, products, events. Some companies handle their own site maintenance, but 95% of our clients just send us e-mails with site changes."

Another DH WEB, Inc. service is Web-based applications, such as association membership directories or business inventory control-all handled

on-line. For example, one company manages beverage inventory for hospitality industry clients; data from bars and restaurants all over the world is sent to DH WEB.

"About 30% of our clients are local," says Henneberger, "but with the Internet, it's a global market. We have a lot of clients we've never met.

"We try to compete in products and services, and not be cut-throat. There's more than enough business to go around.

"Our busines s has doubled each year we've been open. And we're moving into an office [at the TIC] with double the space. But we want to have controlled growth and not incur debt."

"We didn't use anyone else's money for this business. We worked our way up and grew into it," says Hall. "We don't want to ever grow so - much that we can't provide service."

Sometimes, good customer service means saying "no." One would be client was a seventeen-year-old boy and his mother, who had a plan to sell condoms over the Internet. They were sure that this venture would make enough money to pay for the boy's college tuition.

"We talked them out of it," says Hall.

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