Business

You Might Say I’m a Web Pioneer

Google it:  We are older than Google

It’s weird to think about … Arkansas Flag and Banner preceded Google on the web by three years and became one of Google’s first customers. It’s true! They used to send me Christmas gifts. I got a Google beach towel one year and a Google mini fridge the next year; it never really cooled.

How the name ‘flagandbanner.com’ came into being

In 1995, I found myself sitting at a round table luncheon at our local University chatting with other small business owners. After our polite lunch filled with small talk, one of the people at the table, Marla Johnson, rose and walked to the small, intimate podium setting.

She was there to promote her company, Aristotle.net, and educate us entrepreneurs about this thing called the world wide web. After hearing her presentation, I was enthralled and agog at the potential. My product, flags, were classified as specialty items, meaning they were not sold in a traditional store front. That means my customers had to search, usually in the Yellow Pages, to find a flag. I quickly saw the benefit of this new, searchable sales concept. The next week, I called Marla for help at getting my business online.

It’s a whole new world with a language all its own

Marla was very patient with me (she probably had to be with all her customers) as she taught me the new language of the internet. The internet took regular words and turned them on their heads. Words like frames, banners, buttons, platform, search, icon, or web no longer meant the same thing. And then there were all the new words and phrases: downloads, uploads, log in, log out, user name. One day, in a meeting with her staff, I distinctly remember thinking, “Webster is going to have to publish a new dictionary.” I did not foresee that the internet would actually become their new dictionary platform.

The first website Aristotle made for Arkansas Flag and Banner (pictured above) won them awards in design. Though the above picture is now faded, the site was then bright and beautiful but not very functional. Because the site was built using frames, it was clunky to load. There was no shopping cart in the normal sense; carts were all custom made, hard to use and, again, clunky. Also, consumers were slow to trust the internet (wish they were still a little bit that way, lol). After three or four years, and three or four website designs, FlagandBanner.com and Aristotle learned and grew together. This is when I learned what the “bleeding edge of technology” meant. I think that is why I relate to Elon Musk’s biography so much. Creative business owners don’t want to be late to the party, or miss the bus, but it is costly to arrive to early.

Being on the cutting edge paid off 

During this time of early web development, I nearly bankrupted Arkansas Flag and Banner. But after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, Americans (who had been leery of putting their credit card information online) lost their fear of online purchasing and bought American flags in record numbers. My shopping cart sales went from hundreds of dollars a day to thousands. We were strategically in place at the right time.

The early bird gets the worm (or in this case, the name)

Because we got in the game early, we were able to buy what I think is the best URL, FlagandBanner.com, though that was not our first choice. Marla correctly advised me not to use ArkansasFlagandBanner.com because it was too long, and no one could spell Arkansas. She did suggest Flag-Banner.com, which we bought and used for a time until I got tired of telling people, “the dash is not spelled out” and called Marla to buy our current url: FlagandBanner.com.

The shrinking world – the growing net

Because of internet connectivity and affordable travel, the world today seems smaller. But in 1995, Arkansas felt worlds away from Silicon Valley, the birthplace of the tech industry. In Arkansas, the handful of pioneering entrepreneurs who were willing to gamble on this new-fangled invention became friends and shared information.

And Google, who used to appreciate my business, doesn’t even know I exist anymore. Unless, of course, I give their AdWords platform thousands of my advertising dollars … which I do–begrudgingly. Though it has been 25 years since I bought the URL flagandbanner.com, the minutiae of how to run an internet business still feels new, complicated, and yet to be tamed – a little like the Wild West, which does indeed make me a pioneer!

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