Internet helps schools boost fundraising candy sales

BROOK PARK, Ohio - In the age of iPods, blogs and instant messaging, candy maker Dan Malley believed it was time to move away from the glossy fundraising catalogs that have been passed around by candy-hawking schoolchildren for years.

The president of Malley's Chocolates has taken candy sales on the Web and the results have been a boost to his company and to hundreds of nonprofit groups looking to raise money selling chocolate.

This year, more than 1,200 schools, churches and other nonprofit groups are selling his chocolates online, and orders are up more than 800 percent from last year.

Malley has had to hire 25 more full-time workers and buy a customized chocolate bunny-making machine just to keep up with demand. Chocolates are being made around the clock at his 60,000-square-foot factory in suburban Cleveland.

"This is a nice problem to have," Malley said, surveying workers scrambling to wrap and box the candy at the end of the line.

Before going online, Malley's, like other candy makers, relied entirely on catalogs and paper order forms for its fundraising business.

Now, each group writes a tailored message asking people to contribute to their particular cause, and Web-ordering information is e-mailed to friends and relatives.

When a customer clicks on the link, they are taken to a secure Web site with a personalized letter from the seller. The message includes a color photo, biography, explanation of the fundraiser and a link to Malley's online catalog of treats -- everything from a $1 chocolate bunny pop to a 3-foot-tall, 35-pound chocolate bunny sculpture that sells for $250.

"The child never touches money and never (has to) deliver the goods," Malley said, because customers order, pay for and arrange the shipping entirely online.

Malley's ships orders direct to buyers' homes and no longer are parents forced to take the catalogs to work or family gatherings seeking orders.

"More and more companies should be thinking this way," said King Hill, president of DigiKnow Inc., a Cleveland e-business development, consulting and marketing firm. "It's very, very smart. I don't see any downside to it at all.

"Offices all over America are breathing a sigh of relief."

Malley's expanded the online fundraising this year after a trial last year with a few schools and nonprofit groups.

Workers at the candy factory used to make eight small chocolate bunnies an hour. This year, with orders booming and a new machine, they churn out 3,600 in 60 minutes.

"We were shocked to find out how many people are online buying chocolate at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning," Malley said.

Sellers, such as Malley's first-grade daughter, who is selling candy for her school, get an instant message every time someone buys chocolate from their request.

Average orders have increased from $30 from paper catalogs to $50 online.

"It's just been incredible," said Linda Demjanjuk, co-chair of the fundraising committee at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School's parent service organization. The group sold more than $44,000 worth of chocolates through catalog and online sales this year, more than twice what it sold last year.

Rick Miller of e-marketing firm Brulant Inc. said Malley's approach sounds similar to those of Amway and Avon.

Consumers appreciate being able to browse online and ship their chocolates around the country. The manufacturer also benefits by being able to run special sales, quantity discounts or other promotions. But just because people like online sales doesn't mean companies can abandon their paper product, he said.

Even if they have Internet access, "Many people still like to look at the catalog."

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