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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

Home business becomes Web success

By Greg Brewis

Looking to make a little pin money, Byron '69 and Gail (Morseth) '69 Bitar lined up some vendors, threw together a homemade catalog and started a mail order cookware business out of their basement.

That was 20 years ago. Today their company, A Cook's Wares, carries a comprehensive collection of the finest gourmet cookware, cutlery, pans, appliances, bakeware, porcelains, utensils and ingredients. They have a carefully maintained mailing list of more than 100,000 active customers and new prospects. Their Web site, cookswares.com, serves a worldwide clientele and features detailed product information, articles, recipes and secure Internet ordering.

When they started the company, Byron Bitar was beginning what would become a 27-year career as professor of philosophy at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa. Gail Bitar was a full-time mom.

"We were just looking to make some extra money each month. We had no experience in mail order, no experience in business at all," she said. "We settled on selling cookware because we had a newfound interested in gourmet cooking and Byron just loved the tools involved."

With a $5,000 family loan they contacted vendors and began buying products they liked. "Byron has a real knack for knowing what a good product is. We bought nice, useful, high quality tools and then developed a small catalog. We wrote descriptions and Byron did line drawings of the items," Gail said.

Their first advertisement was a one-inch display ad in Gourmet Magazine announcing their catalog. They continued to advertise in Cook's Illustrated, Bon Appétit and Food & Wine Magazine.

Seven years ago they opened a storefront and warehouse in Beaver Falls, where they employ a staff of 12. They have been on the Web for two years.

"It's been a lot of hard work," Gail said, looking back on 20 years in the mail order business. "Byron has had three jobs-if you count being a good father, his teaching career, and our business."

For the Bitars, the real secret to their success is their belief in the necessity to treat both customers and employees with respect.

"We treat people the way we would like to be treated," she said. "I'm surprised when I hear that not all companies are run that way."

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