Fairytale Brownies Adds to Online Mix

The changes to its Web site may be minor, but chocolate brownie maker Fairytale Brownies Inc. is intent on extracting more revenue this holiday season from an online channel that accounts for one-quarter of its annual sales.

Two tweaks by this Chandler, AZ, small business stand out: the ability for online buyers to choose their own flavors out of 12 listed for gift boxes, and a new inquiry area for online quotes.

“It'll help increase sales,” co-founder and president Eileen Joy Spitalny said. “It's putting things online that were available in the catalog, and now the customer can do it online. Online sales are more profitable, and you don't spend call center time.”

The company typically garners half its annual revenue from holiday orders. The Internet accounts for 25 percent of sales, and the monthly catalog the rest. Sales for the year ended July 31 rose 20 percent to $4.5 million, but the target for this year is a 35 percent jump.

An upgraded site at brownies.com is part of that plan to catapult sales to the next level.

Take the flexibility in flavors. Earlier, consumers had no option but to go with the assortment configured by the company. Now they can click on the Choose Your Own Dozen link and select flavors like chocolate chip, almond, walnut, raspberry swirl, caramel, coconut or the original brownie.

The online quote function, promoted in a Nov. 7 e-mail to 40,000 recipients split equally between account holders and buyers, is more for businesses placing large orders. Previously, inquirers had to click on the customer service tab and check the “question” option.

Now visitors click on the business gifts tab and then again on the script on top of the page asking, “Need a brownie gift quote? Click here and tell us about your gift giving needs.” Required fields to be filled include name, company, e-mail, daytime telephone number, type and number of gifts, budget, projected ship date and comments.

The company's response to inquiries is swift, and often in a different medium.

“Even if it was online, we just call back,” Spitalny said. “Sometimes you can just wrap it up on the phone. With e-mail you can go back and forth.”

There are other online changes. A rotating flash of 12 brownie flavors was added to the home page after consumers requested an easier place to find flavors. A Bunches of Brownies function soon will be added for volume discounts on bulk quantities of individual brownies without gift-wrapping.

To educate visitors, the company placed a new tab called Fairytale Fun. A Flash video depicts how chocolate is grown and processed before making its way to Belgium and then to Fairytale Brownies' bakery in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. There are recipes, coloring for kids and a Quicktime baking process video.

In necessary surgery, the company removed an extra tab in the shopping category to make the buying process less cumbersome.

The changes seem like nothing extravagant. But then, Fairytale Brownies has to keep a lid on costs. E-mails and site design are handled inhouse, graphic design by Spitalny's sister-in-law in Los Angeles and the back-end programming by Rhino Interactive in Tempe, AZ.

On the catalog side, printing is done way in advance for better rates. The company early this month completed printing its St. Valentine Day's, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day and summer books. Total spring/summer print run is 625,000.

Founded 10 years ago, Fairytale Brownies is owned equally by childhood friends Spitalny and David Kravetz. They used a 45-year-old recipe belonging to Kravetz's mother to start as a two-person operation. The company today employs 30 people, with ranks swelling to 75 for the holidays.

A large chunk of consumer orders comes from higher-income women. On the business side, corporations placing orders for 200 to 600 gift boxes are the biggest customers this time of year. Fairytale Brownie products are also sold in two company-owned retail stores and via 1800flowers.com and AJ's, an upscale Phoenix grocery chain.

Still, things could be better.

“I think one of the biggest things I'd love to have is our own call center,” Spitalny said.

The company uses Midco, a Sioux Falls, SD, call center, to handle heavy loads, but many times employees take calls. Outsourcing does not deliver the same touch, Spitalny said. Call center representatives can deliver only scripted responses and sometimes lack answers to specific customer queries.

But an inhouse call center is expensive for a company the size of Fairytale Brownies. Unlike bigger rivals, it cannot keep real estate and equipment idle for nine months and then turn on the lights for holidays.

Online, the company is not as sophisticated as larger, better-funded retailers.

“So I can't actually get specific data,” Spitalny said. “Like, once you click-through an e-mail, I can't follow your transaction, I can't follow your buying to see what you actually bought. I can't get those statistics.”

The company is checking software options, though it is loathe to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars for that. It may consider a hosted solution.

“Going forward,” Spitalny said, “we're looking at higher-end order-processing software, and we're hoping we'll have the capabilities to keep track of a planned loyalty program for customers and keep better track of inventory. We used [Dydacomp's] Mail Order Manager, but it has a maximum that it can handle.”

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