It is well known that the internet has changed the way many businesses compete and operate. While most media attention is directed at either new industries and the most popular eCommerce websites, the World Wide Web has also impacted many smaller and lesser known companies, many which do not make the news headlines. However, since the vast majority of business are classified as small businesses, there is much to be learned from the way they go about the website design process.
The Picture Frame Guys is a typical example of a small business in an industry made up of many smaller players. This case study reviews this company's efforts to become a leading eCommerce player through the development of a best-in-class website. The case study details the company’s search for a website design partner that could meet their current and future business requirements without breaking the marketing budget. This information may be helpful to other small businesses who have the ambition to grow their internet presence without spending vast sums of money.
Prior to the internet, the custom framing industry was one that was extremely localized. This was due to the fact that any given framing store’s potential market was limited to a few square blocks from the retail store's location. The only way such a business could grow was either by attracting more customers to the same store or by opening new stores in other geographical markets. Both of these options presented significant challenges.
In the case of attracting new customers, a successful marketing campaign could only increase sales by 10% or 15% and only for a limited time. While this increase in sales would certainly be beneficial to the bottom line, it would have a limited benefit on long-term financial results as at some point all marketing campaigns come to an end.
Regarding the second option, opening new stores could attract entirely new customers. However, finding new locations required months of research to find the right location, significant upfront capital outlay for furniture and fixtures, and necessitated the need to manage multiple locations, including the hiring of employees. Furthermore, it is quite likely that competitors already existed in any new geography so it would take time to attract new customers away from these established retailers.
In contrast, selling picture frames via the internet had the benefit of expanding the company's potential market from a single neighborhood to anybody with an internet connection. Furthermore, an internet site would be open 24/7 and would not require employees to staff.
While this sounds straightforward enough, the solution was full of its own challenges. First, selling picture frames online required specific coding challenges associated with selling custom-made goods. Second, being a small business with limited funds, it was imperative to find a website design partner that did not break the bank. The next section breaks these challenges down in more detail.
Selling frames online is tricky because every single item sold has a different price. Depending on what type of molding a customer purchases, what size of product is purchased, and which accessories such as glass, matting and glazing are selected, the price varies accordingly. Calculating a frame's price is difficult enough in a traditional frame shop. Doing it online in a way that the information is presented to the customer in an easy-to-understand and straightforward way is not trivial. Therefore, the Picture Frame Guys needed to find not just an internet company that could produce attractive websites, but one that could handle the complex coding requirements associated with pricing.
The Search For a Website Design Partner
Given these challenges, the Picture Frame Guys broke down the search for a website design partner into two major activities. First, an extensive internet search was completed to identify the top 5 potential partners. These were found by completing a Google search, followed by thoroughly reviewing each company's website. This included learning about each company's design philosophy, checking their portfolio and reviewing at least 3 sites listed in the portfolio.
Second, a detailed and well thought out requirements document was put together. The goal of this document was to list all design and functionality requirements in detail. The idea was that the more detailed the requirements document, the better quality quotes would be received.
One the quotes were received, instead of simply selecting the lowest price, the Picture Frame Guys team went through each quote in detail. They scored each company on a variety of points and recorded this information in an Excel matrix. Based on the matrix, the top 3 companies were contacted for references. Following these calls, the top 2 providers were asked to have a face-to-face meeting with the Picture Frame Guys. The goal of the face-to-face was less to evaluate technical expertise and more to see which of the two company's would best fit the Picture Frame Guys' culture.
Website Design Firm Selected
After going through this rigorous process, Visualscope Studios was selected as the design partner. There were three reasons that this company was chosen. First, Visualscope's portfolio had both depth and breadth in terms of design and technical capabilities. Every site in their portfolio was well laid out, attractive and informative without being overpowering or busy. The company did not develop sites with a one-size-fits-all approach. They had also created several eCommerce sites.
Second, the company had demonstrated expertise in search engine marketing and SEO. In fact, it turned out that Visualscope was one of the leading SEO firms in the country and this was a capability that the Picture Frame Guys would be requiring at some point in their online growth efforts.
Finally, the website design team at Visualscope was a great fit for the Picture Frame Guys culture. The designers were relaxed and easy-going. They could answer questions clearly and concisely without using industry jargon. It is also interesting that Visualscope was the lowest cost of the proposals received.
Once the business was awarded to Visualscope studios, the project took 8 weeks to complete. This included a technical validation, user acceptance testing, integration testing, and site launch. The overall process was smooth and completed on schedule. The result was a website that was far superior than any competitor's.
The key take-aways for small businesses wishing to improve their online presence is to put time into the process upfront. By doing their homework and clearly understanding what they wish to get from a website upgrade, they will be in a better position to drive the quoting process and thereby find the design partner that best meets their needs.
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