How Schoolhouse Electric Made "Old" New Again

Jan 5, 2017 11:26:44 AM

 portland

THE BACKGROUND

It was back in the 1920s when it became popular to use a shade over light bulbs instead of just having bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. During that time, a particular style of shade became popular:  the schoolhouse light, which had clean lines and solid light-diffusion for places where good ambient light was necessary.

 

Fast forward to 2003. A man named Brian Faherty was in New York, where he purchased a building. A glass blowing company had previously resided there and when they went out of business, they left a whole collection of cast-iron molds for glass light shades, many in the classic schoolhouse style. Faherty scooped them up, had them restored and began production, and thus Schoolhouse Electric was born.

Now, 14 years later, Faherty’s 130-person company focuses on heritage/mid-century modern/utilitarian/retro lighting and other one-of-a-kind home goods, produced both by Schoolhouse and by local artisans.  Their company philosophy is all about supporting manufacturing and production on their home soil in the United States, so they work hard to source products as close to home as possible.


THE PROBLEM AND THE SOLUTION

For years, Schoolhouse Electric did their online business using the Magento platform. In early 2016, when Colby Garrett joined the company as their new Web Administrator, Data Analyst and eCommerce Specialist, he noticed some issues that he felt were impeding the growth of the business.

Many of Schoolhouse’s products are made-to-order, and they come with a number of custom options. For example, with their pendant lights, a customer has to pick a length, the finish on the hardware, and the colour of the cord. However, those custom options don’t change the SKU of the product, which made for huge challenges in having the proper data transferred from the website into their notoriously difficult ERP (stock keeping software).  

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Another issue was their ever-changing lead times. Because their business model is one where they endeavor to source parts and products as close-to-home as possible, and because manufacturing on-shore is less common than it used to be, their lead times are rarely consistent.  That meant, on a daily basis, Garrett had to go into their Magento admin and manually change the description for every single product, listing its status as in stock or sold out, and how long it would be until it might ship. It was taking up to four hours of his time every single day, preventing him from getting much else done.

He knew the process could be better, not only from a time management perspective but from a sales perspective too. Garrett knew they could be selling so much more if their platform would only support what they wanted to do.

 

DRAWING ON PAST EXPERIENCE

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Garrett came over to Schoolhouse after several years with USA Military Medals (USAMM). Just like in his current situation, USAMM was using Magento and their business growth was being hampered because of limitations on the platform. USAMM enlisted Bold to migrate their website from Magento to Shopify and build out some custom features. Everyone there was thrilled at how smoothly the process went.

Because Schoolhouse had many of the same frustrations that USAMM originally had, Garrett decided to pitch his new employers on hiring Bold migrate their site to Shopify, and to do some custom development to overcome some of their biggest struggles.

Schoolhouse Electric signed on with Bold in March of 2016 and by June 2016, their website migration from Magento to Shopify was complete. It only took three months to duplicate the old look and feel of the site and to create all of the necessary functionality to allow the website to function they way they wanted.

Not only did Shopify’s inherent flexibility open up a new world of possibilities, Bold’s development team really took the Schoolhouse Electric website to the level they had envisioned.

Bold developed an upload system that would allow for quick and easy changes to the website; what used to take Garrett four hours a day now takes just a few minutes to complete, and he says it’s made a world of difference. Bold was also able to allow Schoolhouse’s website “talk” to their tricky inventory management system, which totally eliminated all of the old problems created with the custom options offered to customers on their products.

 

THE RESULT

Garrett says the results of Bold’s work aren’t just seen on the administrative end of the business, the proof is in their sales numbers.

There have been several individual days since the migration and re-launch of their website that they’ve blown away previous sales records.  He says they’ve been able to finally run specials and sales that have increased business in a huge way, like the free shipping promotion they recently ran for the first time ever.  

They had never done sales promotions before because it had just been too cumbersome to set up on Magento, but was so simple using Bold’s apps on Shopify. On the day of their free shipping special, Schoolhouse generated $127,000 worth of sales.  That’s $76,000 more than any day in the company’s history.  

Says Garrett, “We couldn’t have done it without the new site.  It would have been impossible.”

 

GOING FORWARD

During the time Schoolhouse had Bold on retainer, because Bold worked so quickly to get the website up and running, they had plenty of time left on the contract to look to the future.  They were able to build six months worth of their “going forward roadmap” into the new site.

Garrett says they used to feel like they were at a standstill as far as moving ahead with development because on the previous platform, they were consistently spending 50 hours every month just doing break fixes. Once they saw how fast and affordable it was to get things developed using Bold on the Shopify platform, they started to realize the sky’s the limit for what’s possible with their site.

“One of the biggest selling points was the fact that, when I had worked with Bold previously, projects that other companies might spec as a 10-hour project would usually only be an hour or two with Bold.  With Magento, development times can take ridiculous amounts of hours. In the time since we changed to Shopify, we took care of probably a year’s worth of our road map of ongoing development, and now we’re probably two years ahead of where we would have been, had we stayed with Magento. Based off of operating costs and development costs with Bold included, we’re saving about $60,000 per year.  Everything is substantially faster and easier to deal with.”

 

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

What have you learned that you’d like to share with other people in eCommerce?

Colby Garrett: “Honestly one of the big things is, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate what your platform is and what your company is set up to utilize.  Just taking the biggest points of my experience of Magento to Shopify conversion, Magento is very powerful platform, it’s open source and you can do a lot with it.  It costs a lot of money to do that.  And for a large company, depending on what it does, it might be the way to go.  But people have a tendency to get talked into one thing, and get stuck in that way and think they can’t change now that they’ve already done it.  

But my interactions with Shopify and Bold show that you’re not stuck with the choices you’ve made in the past. You constantly need to re-evaluate and make sure your business is being taken care of in the proper way.  And if not, there’s no harm in exploring and making sure there's nothing something better out there for you.  That’s one of the biggest take-aways I’ve had from my past seven years of experience with eCommerce. Just because you did it one way doesn't mean it’s not a good idea to change it.”

Kim Babij-Gesell

Written by Kim Babij-Gesell

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