IN WALLOWA COUNTY GROUP TOUTS E-COMMERCE FOR LOCAL PRODUCTS

January 29, 2002 11:00 pm

By Bill Rautenstrauch

For the Observer

ENTERPRISE Global markets for local products.

Thats what the Enterprise Hometown Improvement Group envisions as it launches its E-Commerce Community Training Program.

The grant-funded pilot project will show people how to profit from online marketing and auction services, and also provide a source of income for the improvement group.

Were killing a bunch of birds with one stone, EHIG Director Wendy Hansen said. One, weve upgraded our antiquated computer equipment. Two, were training people in e-commerce. And three, were creating an e-commerce program that will help sustain our own operations.

EHIG is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving livability and economic conditions in Enterprise and Wallowa County.

Hansen said the idea for the e-commerce program grew out of her own unique hobby oil cans. She collects oil cans from around the world, oil cans from different eras, oil cans made by many different manufacturers.

Accessing eBay, the worlds foremost online auction service, Hansen discovered, to her delight, a big market for vintage oil cans. One can she has in her possession an older model bearing the John Deere logo is listed on eBay for $80.

I started to realize there are incredible opportunities for selling in the world market, Hansen said.

She and others connected with EHIG began researching e-commerce, and soon met a bookstore owner from John Day who has been very successful in the practice. His operation became a model for the EHIG project.

He sells all kinds of items for other people books, log trucks, vintage autos, art. He gets a 20 percent commission. Whats really interesting is that he sells 25 percent of his items outside the U.S., Hansen said. If its working in John Day, it can work here.

Hansen applied for and received a $5,000 grant from Verizon for upgrades to EHIGs computer system, including purchase of a scanner and a digital camera. The computer system now in place efficiently supports e-commerce transactions, she said.

Next, EHIG partnered with Blue Mountain Community College to give classes in selling products on Internet commerce sites. Tim Perales, an e-commerce expert from Joseph, taught the first class earlier this month. He will teach others in February.

We hope the training component of the project will encourage trainees to develop their own e-commerce businesses, Hansen said. Thats whats happening in John Day, where the bookstore owner conducts e-commerce training in addition to selling items online.

Perales classes are taught in two, four-hour blocks at Blue Mountain Computer in Enterprise. The cost is $30, but scholarships are offered to students who are willing to assist in the EHIG program.

With the help of those students, EHIG will sell items on the Internet for individuals and businesses that dont have the time or equipment to do it themselves.

For that service, EHIG will charge a 20 percent commission. The group also will sell donated items. It has set up a site in eBays non-profit division, Hansen said.

There are definite advantages to working with eBay, she noted. If youre selling, say, quilts from your own local website, you might not get many hits. But with eBay, the exposure is huge. There are millions of people using it.

She noted, however, that EHIG wont rely exclusively on eBay for sales.

There are a lot of sites out there. If we were selling rare books, for instance, we might go to Amazon.com or A.B.E., she said.

Total cost for setting up the program is $9,000. In addition to the $5,000 from Verizon, EHIG has received $500 each from the City of Enterprise and the Meyer Memorial Trust. The group has also applied for a $3,000 grant from the Northeast Oregon Alliance.

In March, a coordinator will be hired part-time to assist in program development. The success of the program will be assessed after six months, Hansen said.

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