Searching For A Needle In A New York Haystack

Yesterday I spent a good part of my day looking for heat lamps to warm up our new office patio. Armed with a suggestion that Home Depot sells these outdoor heaters, I called all of the retailer's outlets in Manhattan and Brooklyn only to learn that April, not March, is heat lamp season for the New York region. Naturally, after learning that Home Depot was not going to be my easy way out--and neither were any of the other major discount retailers in New York, for that matter--I turned to search engines. I searched Google Local, Yahoo Yellow Pages, Ask and for combinations of "heat lamps," "outdoor heaters," "patio heat lamps" and "patio heaters," each followed by "New York, New York."

Though the search engines I used presented me with the local information I needed in a format that was easy to review, to my dismay there were only a handful of stores in New York City that actually appeared in the local listings. A few were heating supply and service stores, but when I called them, most of the receptionists had a good chuckle at my request.



Getting frustrated but undeterred, I remembered that there are a number of restaurant supply stores on the Bowery, which is a street in the downtown area of the city. I quickly searched for "restaurant supply bowery New York, New York," but the only stores that were presented were those that had the word "bowery" in their names. None had the patio heat lamp I was looking for, but after a subway ride down to the area and visiting what seemed like every store on the street, I learned that there was, in fact, a store on the street that sold patio heat lamps. Unfortunately they were all priced well over my budget.

Borrell Associates estimates that advertisers spent $3.9 billion on local search last year. Borrell projects that this number will grow to $5.7 billion by the end of this year, representing a growth of roughly 46 percent. comScore estimated in 2004 that, depending on the category of product or service, 25 percent to 50 percent of all online searches are local searches. Despite these seemingly positive numbers, only 15 percent of local ad budgets are allotted to online efforts, according to The Kelsey Group estimates.

Indeed, my search for a vendor of patio heat lamps in New York City proved that many well-established small businesses have yet to jump on the online advertising bandwagon. I was especially struck that the restaurant suppliers on the Bowery, with such a plethora of items for sale for which they could buy keywords and dominate search engine real estate, were not taking advantage of the ad medium. Don't they need a leg up on the competition? There are at least 10 of these stores in a stretch of only two or three blocks.

The reason they do not have a strong online presence could be as simple as not needing the business. These stores have been around for years and it is likely that restaurant owners know which one specializes in what product. Or maybe it's a generational thing. Perhaps once the sons and daughters currently working the counters inherit the family business, we'll see a greater shift of ad dollars online.

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