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Moving on the Net Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002

It seems that working a dead-end job can pay off.

When Michael Miller was in college, he worked as a mover at a Cleveland moving company. Twenty-five years later, he handles his own business, The Box Office, selling boxes and supplies at prices that are making competitors' jaws drop.

Two years ago, Miller put his business online. Today, he serves customers in all 50 states and six foreign countries.

When he opened The Box Office (www.the-box-office.com), he sold moving boxes and supplies such as tape, cord and packing materials. What he didn't do was offer moving services.

"I wanted to specialize," says Miller. "I know the moving companies sell boxes, but I don't understand why people would buy boxes from them when they can buy them from a store that specializes in just boxes and offers them for much cheaper."

But while that niche made Miller's company successful, it wasn't until he migrated it to the Web that he saw the advantages of reaching a larger group of prospects. Here's what he found.

Expand your customer base

One of the advantages of the Net, according to Miller, is the ability to serve far more clients. He has kept the physical store open for his loyal local customers, but now serves customers across the nation.

"I have taken orders from customers in California and Massachusetts on the same day," says Miller, who usually ships the day he receives the order.

One thing he's noticed is that customers are surprised at how quickly they receive their purchases; they expect to wait a week, but instead wait only a day or two. Customers also appreciate the competitive pricing. Miller says he's found that people in cities like New York and Los Angeles are choosing his services over local box suppliers.

Pick up the pace

The ability to react quickly has helped Miller decrease the time it takes to handle a transaction. The seller spends less time making the sale and the buyer makes purchases more quickly and easily.

"There's no salespeople who spend time talking," says Miller.

Instead of going through salespeople, customers go right to the product catalog and indicate what they'd like to purchase.

From the other side of the looking glass, Miller says, "Internet customers don't waste my time." Web customers log on, search his online inventory and place their orders.

"There are two kinds of customers with any business," says Miller. "There are those that are serious about buying, and those you want to keep. Then, there are also those that waste your time. I can identify the good customers through the Internet. Those are the ones who are serious."

Make everybody happy

Miller finds that serving customers online is cheaper and easier. He doesn't have to pay a sales staff; in fact, only three employees comprise The Box Office staff. Miller doesn't have to pay for bookkeepers, either; there is no need for bills.

"Purchases are paid for immediately," he says.

Miller also likes the fact that his customers are happier with Internet business. Customers can order from the convenience of their homes.

"Communication is enhanced," he says. "Customers can talk to people who are knowledgeable. I tell them, if they have questions, they can just call me."

While Miller may have had enough of being a mover, he does know how items should be moved and he's happy to offer his knowledge. In fact, a large part of his time is spent answering calls and e-mails about how certain items should be packed and moved. And that has become another part of his business.

"After a day at the office, sometimes I'll come home and spend two hours working from home, answering e-mails," says Miller.

The 45-year-old husband and father claims he is just trying to make things easier and more fun for everyone.

"I'm not a businessman," he says. "I'm a problem solver." How to reach: The Box Office, (216) 581-4189, www.The-Box-Office.com

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.