Profiting from the Net

August 10, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

For a local dog rescue group, a veterinary clinic's Web site is a basset asset.

Pet Portal is "extremely" helpful, said Diane Morgan, the treasurer of Basset Rescue Of the Old Dominion, which is known as BROOD.

Through Pet Portal, BROOD members in Pennsylvania or Virginia - anywhere, really - can check the medical records of basset hounds they've left at the Cumberland Valley Veterinary Clinic near Hagerstown for treatment.

Pet Portals is one of a number of Internet sites that allow people to do business or errands from a home computer. Banks, shoe stores and hotels are among those doing it.


There's a difference between visiting a Web site to find out a store's hours and, say, booking a hair appointment, which customers of Studio One Hair Design & Day Spa in Frederick, Md., can do over the Internet.

Donna Logan of Checkmate Web Design in Hancock, Md., said a business may pay a lot up front to set up an interactive Web site because a programmer is more expensive than a designer. But "there's a return on the investment over the years," she said.

About a year and a half ago, while working for another company, Logan designed a Web site for Schonstedt Instrument Co. of Kearneysville, W.Va. An online warranty registration is one of the site's features.

Michael Head, Schonstedt's president, said the warranty registration program is helpful because information automatically enters the company's database; no one has to type it in,

Schonstedt makes two types of products - magnetic equipment that finds underground ferrous materials and other equipment that locates buried pipes and cables.

Some Washington County hotels accept reservations online, either directly at their chain's Web site or through the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Using a program set up by a company called WorldRes, about three or four travelers a month book hotel rooms through the Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site, Executive Director Ben R. Hart said.

Home Federal Bank, which has branches in Washington County, allows customers to transfer money between accounts, pay bills, check balances, issue stop payments, apply for loans, and print copies of checks - front and back - from their home computers.

E.L.M. Shoes in Greencastle, Pa., has an electronic feature to replace that blob-shaped metal shoe-sizer that most everyone has stepped on.

The "Virtual Sizer" at E.L.M.'s Web site instructs customers to measure their feet in inches, big toe to heel, then click on a conversion graphic for their shoe size.

Interactivity isn't limited to businesses.

The U.S. Postal Service lets customers buy stamps, print shipping labels, calculate postage, track and confirm delivery, pay bills, forward mail and more by computer.

Washington County Free Library's Web site, which has a variety of features for patrons at home, has become "very popular," public relations coordinator Marsha L. Fuller.

Fuller said the library offers:

  • An online book club, in which readers are sent a brief portion of a book each weekday. After several days, patrons are encouraged to check out the book at the library to finish it. As of Aug. 1, the club had 431 members.

  • An online catalogue of books, CDs, DVDs, videotapes and audio books. From home, patrons can renew a book, reserve a book or request a book through interlibrary loan. As of Aug. 1, the online catalogue had received 1,787,054 hits in the previous year.

  • A 24/7 reference desk called "AskUsNow!" It is a collaborative project of libraries across Maryland. Patrons can get librarians to answer questions quickly. The program, which started in March, averages 70 questions a month.

  •, which is also known as "Live Homework Help." Students in grades 4 through 12 can log on between 2 p.m. and midnight to get help with their math, science, social studies and English homework. A live tutor will help them online for 20 minutes. About 185 people per month use

  • A slew of online databases, including Health & Wellness, Reference USA, Clinical Pharmacology and NoveList, as well as full-text newspapers and magazines. In the 2003 fiscal year, 7,192 patrons used those databases.

A separate genealogy database called HeritageQuest started on July 1 and had 1,934 users in one month.

Those figures do not include people who used the Sailor series of online databases, which is available to all Maryland libraries, Fuller said.

Cumberland Valley Veterinary Clinic was the first in Washington County to use Pet Portals, said Athena Haresign, the vice president of VetInsite in Silver Spring, Md., which offers the program.

Tammy Snyder, Cumberland Valley's office manager, said pet owners can log on, using a password, and check vaccination, boarding and grooming records. They also can make appointments.

Anyone in the office can take appointments over the phone, but only Snyder has been monitoring Pet Portal, which is adding to her work.

"It adds a few steps (for me), but it's more convenient for the client," she said.

Basset Rescue Of the Old Dominion's Morgan, who lives near Williamsport, said the Web site has helped her group so much, she can hardly express it.

Each year, BROOD places about 150 basset hounds. Many dogs pass through Cumberland Valley, one of two clinics that BROOD uses.

Morgan said members of her group are able to log on and print vaccination and other medical records, then immediately pass them to the new dog owners.

"I can't even tell you what a convenience it's been," she said.

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