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Film festival delighted with online solution
Michael McCullough Vancouver Sun

Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun / TWO FOR TONIGHT?: VIFF's Jane MacDonald is banking on Tony Zaine's's help.

When the Vancouver International Film Festival opens Sept. 22, film-goers will have the opportunity to view the schedule, read blurbs on each of the films and buy tickets online for the first time.

It seems a natural for an event such as this, for which organizers must keep track of ticket sales at eight theatres offering up to five screenings a day, and at which the schedule can change at the last minute.

For most small- to medium sized organizations in Canada, it just isn't that easy.

"We've been struggling with how to sell tickets online for a couple of years," says Jane MacDonald, the festival's communications director. "We went through agony last year."

Most e-commerce providers target their systems at large organizations, and they were too expensive, MacDonald says.

So the VIFF hired a Web developer to design the site, and it turned out to be more than he could handle. When the 1999 festival opened, the site offered only information, not tickets.

This year the festival came across, a company located in the same building in Yaletown as the VIFF. 5click is one of very few e-commerce providers that aims for small business. The company managed to get the VIFF running in less than three weeks.

"It was miraculous," MacDonald says. Now the festival site can not only handle orders, but instantaneously relay the sales information to its ticket broker in Seattle.

"We need to know whether we're sold out," MacDonald says.

Not all small organizations are so lucky. Just 10 per cent of Canadian businesses made sales through the Internet last year, according to Statistics Canada. Just 0.2 per cent of the sales of goods and services took place online.

5click can offer quick solutions to small customers because its code is mature, says vice-president Al Gurhan. Instead of rewriting the book with each new client, 5click starts with its proprietary e-commerce platform and customizes it as the client requires.

"The functionality behind each one of these sites is basically the same," he says. The user-friendly interface makes it possible for almost anyone to manage the site, although many clients employ their own Web designer to juice the graphics.

For example, Lapointe Fish has been selling seafood wholesale to hotels and restaurants in the Ottawa area for half a century.

For just $100 a month, 5click hosts a site that allows people in Lapointe's head office to process orders and change prices without contacting the Webmaster.

For an additional fee, 5click can add functions such as a banners master, experience archive, mass messaging system, commentator forum, link exchange and currency converter.

"Normally it would take months and tens of thousands of dollars to do this," Gulhan says. For a customer with all its content and digital images ready to load, 5click can do it in a matter of days, he says.

5click was founded as Sun Commerce four years ago by Glenn Ballman, who went on to found, a small-business services network, in Seattle. The original Onvia site, then called, was based on the 5click e-commerce platform.

Gurhan and 5click president Tony Zaine, both former salesmen from the telecommunications industry, bought the company last February, renamed it and refocused its operations as an application service provider to small to medium-sized enterprises.

The market is already crowded in the U.S. but it's still emerging north of the border, Gulhan remarks.

"In the U.S. it's 'What does it do? What does it cost?' We're still selling the value of being on the Internet in Canada."


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