A business website wasn’t on Dixon and Karie Cole’s radar.
The manager and owner of L&M Bowl in Manning had a mass texting service they used to keep customers updated on specials, and that was about as far as the business’s technology went, Dixon Cole said.
But when a Drake University web development class joined with Manning to create websites for 15 area businesses, as part of a two-year partnership between the city and the university, the Coles got on board.
Now, lmbowlinc.com is the result — along with 14 other websites that Manning businesses were able to have designed for free.
Dixon Cole plans to continue to tweak and work with the website and to use it to further the business down the road — he’d been meaning to figure out the logistics of a business website but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
“Through Main Street and these students, it was kind of a no-brainer to say yes,” he said.
The class assigned at least three students to each business, and the teams worked with the business owners to track down company information, history, hours and other pertinent details.
“Some of these businesses didn’t have a site, and didn’t have the time, knowledge or skill (to make a website),” said Main Street Manning Board President Ron Reischl, who was involved with the project from Manning’s development side. “What the students provided was the knowledge and ability to build a web page.”
In the end, the business owners paid only to host the sites, with the labor and design offered for free through the class — the students’ payment was a class grade. Each owner also received instructions about how to change information on his or her site.
“It’s kind of invigorating to engage with these students,” Reischl said. “They’re generally excited about what they’re doing.”
Reactions to the sites were mainly positive, he added.
“Most of these small-town businesses are run by one or two people, oftentimes a married couple,” he said. “They’re doing everything and simply didn’t have time to get a web page together, nor did they know how to do it. They very much appreciated having somebody come in to do this.”
The project strengthened the city’s ongoing relationship with Drake University, Reischl said.
And it was a valuable exercise for the students.
“I got my first job offer recently in part because I was able to show a real-world example of a website I designed in this class,” said Aaron Melton, a senior marketing and information systems major at Drake University, according to Drake’s website.
And that was the goal, said Alanah Mitchell, associate professor of information systems at Drake, who taught the class.
“I wanted the students to not only learn how to create websites but to also have the experience of creating them for clients, who had opinions and needs that the students had to learn and then implement,” she said, according to the website. “Now, when the students apply and interview for jobs, they can draw on this project and demonstrate their ability to connect with clients and deliver a final product.”
The final result was a plus for Manning’s business district as well.
“We had a number of businesses who had no (online) visibility — no Facebook page or website,” Reischl said. “This gave them a web presence and gives them an opportunity to move forward to strengthen our social media presence.”
Each site is a bit different and offers photos and details — of physical therapy and chiropractic offices, a café, car repair and service centers, an insurance agency, a veterans organization and more.
They’re tailored to their businesses, with colorful child-sized handprints scattered across the background of Manning Child Care Center’s site, and a rustic wood design backing the site for Spies Furs.
Dixon Cole has a customer rewards kiosk at the bowling alley that invites people to sign up for text-message notifications of specials and events, but the website is the first major online presence the company has, he said.
He spent time on the phone with the students on his website’s team, answering questions about the business, its history and its offerings and sending photos to use on the site. He appreciated the opportunity to have the website designed so that he only had to pay for the web hosting.
“It was an awfully nice service,” he said. “They did a great job, and we appreciate it very much.”
Link to article, listing of websites and pictures