Once upon a time, a small business’s IT person installed new systems and programs, trained staff to navigate them and fixed glitches. But that’s so 20 years ago.
“Marketing has changed so much, especially for anyone like us who markets nationally. If you don’t stay on top of marketing trends, you lose market share,” said Terrie Crockett, who with her husband Allan runs the gift fruit shipper Crockett Farms. “There’s no way you can stay in business without a full-time marketer on the cutting edge of technology. We had to have a high-power IT person in-house.”
Nancy and Brad Crockett began a catalog mail order business in 1961 shipping the family’s citrus. Her daughter-in-law Terrie took it over in 1993 and eventually acquired several smaller gift fruit shippers. “Some of our older customer base and corporate clients still prefer to call to place orders. But people who are referred to us and others who search online to find our products, those customers use the website to place their orders.” Currently more than 50 percent of orders are placed online.
But by the 2016-2017 shipping season, the website was outdated and malfunctioning. The Crocketts had the option of contracting with an IT marketing firm to design and maintain a contemporary website. “The problem is the information they need to do their job correctly requires that you have a dedicated employee as their liaison. It makes more sense to bring IT and marketing in-house,” Terrie said.
The Crocketts were lucky. Their younger son Andy had co-developed and patented customer relations management software for banks while at Texas A&M University. While Andy had grown up with the family businesses, he hadn’t considered working there until last spring. In May 2017, he joined the staff in the multifaceted role of IT marketer, responsible for web design and coding, doing photography for the catalog and customer relations. Having been immersed in gift fruit shipping since a child, he knew the selling point of the products and could anticipate needs.
Andy, who has five years experience with professional IT programming, is well aware that the website is the company’s front door. “Familiarity of your brand leads to sales. You have to have your website up to spec. An attractive design, without clutter, that’s easy to use is the start.” The contemporary solution is called responsive design. “No matter what device you use (tablet, phone, laptop, desktop, watch), the code is built to adapt the web pages to whatever screen it is viewed on. The use of one codebase saves time and money whenever a website is updated.”
A well-designed website optimized for SEO must be paired with the capability and the commitment to constantly update the content to be successful. “If you have a lot of product options, you need a website that can walk a customer through all the products,” he said. And online marketing is like a puzzle with many pieces, all needed to catch various customers. Social media postings from Facebook and blogs to Instagram and Twitter will increasingly help Crockett Farms stay visible and engaged with their customers.
Andy described shipping season IT as “putting out fires. If something goes wrong at 8 a.m. on Monday, we can have it fixed by 8:30 a.m. so you don’t lose sales.” Nonetheless, gift fruit is a seasonal business, although the company ships grapefruit through April and Texas peaches and onions in the spring. Offseason gives the company time to work on product development, catalog photography and text, computer systems and website upgrades, and schedule Instagram and Facebook posts for the next season.
Off-season is enabling the younger Crockett to branch out and get exposure to the two other family businesses, Hilco and Gulf Coast Contractors. Hilco manufactures its signature product the Gun Mattress as well as custom heavy-duty awnings and tarps; hunting gear such as gun cases and snake chaps. Gulf Coast Contractors does commercial projects such as tree relocation and vegetative restoration at oilfield sites. In April, Andy was managing a Gulf Coast Contractors crew hydro-seeding around the runways at McAllen Miller International Airport. “I’m enjoying taking on new roles. The variety breaks up the monotony of programming and hours and hours of sitting there making sure everything is right.”
In addition, applying information he has picked working on various projects, Andy has begun redesigning the Hilco and Gulf Coast websites. “It all ties into what I do.”