Design of the Times

Take an Internet service provider, cross it with a chain of print shops that serves small- and medium-sized businesses and a company that specializes in desktop publishing software, and what do you get?

The answer is AlphaGraphics Web Site Services, a partnership of AlphaGraphics, EarthLink Network and Adobe Systems to offer Web site design and hosting services throughout the country beginning today.

The idea stems from focus groups and surveys of AlphaGraphics customers, 70% of whom said they plan to put their businesses on the Web by the end of this year, said Michael Witte, chairman and CEO of the privately held printing franchise based in Tucson. To Witte's mind, producing a Web site for a company is simply the digital version of producing a pamphlet or other printed paper product, which is his company's specialty.

For $250, AlphaGraphics staffers will register a domain name and offer an initial consultation. Each page of a client's Web site costs $150 to produce, and Web hosting services run about $150 a month for a typical site. Those prices put AlphaGraphics' service near the less expensive end of professional Web site design services.

Although this isn't the first effort to create a nationally branded chain of Web service outlets, it is certainly the biggest. USWeb Corp. of Santa Clara was founded in late 1995 as a national chain to serve Fortune 500 companies, but it has signed up only about 50 franchisees so far. AlphaGraphics has 250 franchisees in the United States and an additional 70 overseas, where Web site services will be offered starting in September.

AlphaGraphics has promised to sell at least one Web site per store per month, which guarantees EarthLink a major chunk of new clients. The Pasadena-based ISP has already seen its Web-hosting business grow to account for between 15% and 20% of its business, and EarthLink is adding several dozen new clients a week, said spokeswoman Kirsten Kappos. That's just fine for EarthLink, because its Web hosting clients provide better profit margins than the company's bread-and-butter Internet access customers, she said.

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