No business today can exist or have much of an impact on their local or global marketplace without a well-managed website. Any small business that emerges to become a going concern and define a place for themselves in the online marketplace has undergone significant website transitions. There are countless examples of the major site redesigns, rebuilds, and repurposing of an existing website that can take place as a business pivots to new goals and objectives. In this post, we focus on three businesses that have been long-time clients of Oakley Studio, and have weathered such transitions and moved into new stages in their evolution.

Journeyworks Compass: A Business for Retirement

Journeyworks Compass Jewelry

Journeyworks Compass Jewelry went through an important transition last year, from funneling visitors to a store on to becoming an online ecommerce storefront in it’s own right, selling those same products directly. Owner Elaine Kidd anticipates retiring from a teaching job in the next year, and is looking forward to having more time to focus on her online business. Through the “Journeyworks Compass” brand, Elaine designs, manufactures, and sells a variety of functional compass jewelry at an attractive price point. My wife and I have purchased  several of Elaine’s adorable small clip-on compasses for our travel and backpacking bags. These are actually working compasses, in delightful designs.

Elaine has had an Amazon storefront for many years and has created a good customer base and brand recognition. Yet she is aware that any Amazon store offers many distractions to every potential customer, which can degrade the shopping experience. Too many choices can result in abandoned carts. Amazon wants to show other products, related products, and offers too much in the way of reviews and upsells on the way to the checkout counter.

To build out her product pages and configure a WooCommerce store on her own website, Elaine contracted with Oakley Studio for a series of six weekly coaching/training sessions to work on the site redesign. She needed to organize product pages, configure checkout pages, provide good invoice and packing slip management, and automate tax and shipping calculations. Her WordPress website was already using the “Divi” theme. Oakley Studio is an Elegant Themes developer so we know Divi very well. Our own website uses the famous “Divi” theme! So we were well-equipped to provide weekly instruction in how to build pages with the Divi Builder.  In between sessions, Elaine went to work and built out her product line pages, and came to each coaching session with new questions to expand her knowledge of the page builder design tool and take advantage of our expertise in shop design. Elaine created a refreshed logotype for her business, and reorganized products to include “Complete Collection” and “Sale” pages to help move more inventory.

Elaine says, “I’m very happy with having the new online storefront — it’s my own website and the purchase and checkout is simpler than Amazon for customers to navigate, without so many distractions. It increases my profits and cuts down on the distractions.”

Journeyworks is a New Mexico business, with products made in the U.S.A. Elaine is considering whether her business might benefit from participating in the New Mexico TRUE program and displaying the New Mexico TRUE logo on her home page.

Sherck Seeds: Ramping Down and Pivoting to Community

Sherck Seeds Research

A major transition was necessary at Sherck Seeds, when an old developer-abandoned “eShop” ecommerce storefront was no longer able to use newer more secure versions of PHP. (PHP is a server-side dynamic page processor used by all WordPress websites.) Here is an example of a forced transition due to the steady onward march of technology. If a website is unable to upgrade important server security software, it can become vulnerable to malicous exploits, and hackers can potentially gain unauthorized access.

As it happened, the migration from eShop to WooCommerce dovetailed nicely with a significant business pivot. In early 2020, owner John Sherck was anticipating another transition, greatly reducing the company’s seed sales, and eventually bringing them to a complete close.

Seven years earlier, John was was looking to create a new website for his seed trialing and seed saving business. He was already well-known in the local community for his market gardening and roadside sales in northern Indiana. But he was passionate about testing strains of staple food crops well-suited to the midwest where he had been engaged in small-scale farming.

Over the next seven years, John would become one of the sought-after experts in midwestern heritage seed growing. His small online seed business in this niche market attracted a lot of attention right from the start. Not only did his sales increase year-over-year, but he has developed a community — an “ecosystem” — around seed saving and trialing. Along the way he has introduced many new food staple crops to thousands of backyard gardeners, avid seed-savers, and heritage produce collectors. His website is a wealth of information on a great many varieties of root crops, legumes, and grains that John has authored over the years, in the day-to-day process of operating his business.

As John describes it, “Pete Oakley was referred to me by a good friend when I first started my seed business and needed help in building a website and the provided hosting. From that first year my website quickly gained attention and grew in visits and sales every single year. Much of this growth I can apportion to Pete since he helped me to understand ways to increase my ranking on search engines, as well as providing content and customer service that has helped make Sherck Seeds a popular website for folks looking for rare heritage seed, and the ‘know how’ to make their gardening adventures successful.”

Unfortunately the free “eShop” storefront that met John’s needs in 2013 was no longer up to the job by late 2019. So we began to plan a transition from the “eShop” store to a more robust and feature-rich “WooCommerce” storefront. As this was happening, John was anticipating a reduction in his for-sale inventory, focusing on a selection of rice varieties that perform well in current growing conditions of the midwest zone.

Through a series of coaching/training sessions I worked with John to modify previous eShop product pages (which contained lots of searchable content) into an archive of valuable blog posts, while guiding the build-out of his new WooCommerce store for selling a greatly reduced product line of the new rice varieties that had become his primary focus. He began selling these seeds in early fall 2020 after a successful trialing of the crops over the Spring and Summer. And in early 2021, John brought his seed-selling business to a graceful end.

“Recently I have decided to end my business as a seedsman, but saw the value of maintaining the Sherck Seeds website as an archive of information as well as a site to continue adding fresh content that may be helpful to past customers as well as new visitors with an interest in the type of crops and methods I employ. In 2020, Pete helped me to migrate from the older, outdated eShop system to a newer and more secure WooCommerce platform. This allowed me to maintain happy customers for my last selling season, and begin the process of developing the website for its new repurposed use as a purely informational resource.”

“I greatly value Pete’s patience over the years in helping someone with very basic computer skills to create a website that has gone way beyond my initial expectations.”

Last month, John concluded his Rice sales, and is no longer selling seeds. He will continue using the website to communicate with seed collectors around the world who share his interest in preseving and continuing to grow all varieties of heritage food crops.

“I am now finished with the seed business. I still need to convert the rice sales pages over to the archive section. Hopefully I can get to that sometime in June.”

Annie’s Woolens: Multiple Website Transitions Over 25 Years of Online Business

Annie’s Woolens Christmas Stocking Knitting Kits and Patterns

Annie’s Woolens is one of Oakley Studio’s oldest and most successful clients. Owner Anne Maillette built a small one-person home-based knitting business into a very productive “Spotlight” business on the internet, starting in the very early days of the World Wide Web in 1996. Anne had been knitting and selling her own sweater designs, knitted hats and mittens, and selling these products at local arts and crafts fairs in northern Wisconsin, until the “WWW” came along and allowed her to sell her beautiful products all around the world.

Anne is my sister! I had begun my website design and hosting business back in the very early days of the internet, circa 1996, just as it was becoming a new global marketplace for commercial enterprises. Anne was among my very first clients, and she has been an Oakley Studio client for over 25 years.

Annes’s business has seen several significant website transitions over the years:

  • From selling her own hand-knitted products to manually machine-knit and stitched and personalized (embroidered) products.
  • By early 2000 she was no longer selling her sweaters. Beautiful as they were, it was difficult to price them and provide a decent profit. Her focus turned to heirloom personalized Christmas Stockings in her own distinctive designs.
  • A technically challenging migration in 2006 from utilizing a Frontier database (for those of you who remember Dave Winer — one of the early internet networking programmers) for her online storefront to the up-and-coming mySQL database that was emerging as the gold standard workhorse for custom ecommerce websites.
  • Growing from a one-person business to operating a shop with several employees. Building up an inventory and managing sales with a predictable selling cycle.
  • Dealing with the rapid expansion of a brand-name business that was growing exponentially. The year-end “Christmas Season” ramping up in early October and escalating through mid-December was both exhausting and exhilarating.
  • Another forced transition in mid-2018 from an entirely custom-built website with legacy code to the sustainable WordPress/WooCommerce platform, while maintaining the same design look-and-feel and back-office business processes. An important goal was to retain her loyal following of ~35,000 repeat customers.
  • And now, three years later, Anne is ramping down her business, discontinuing the personalized Knitted and Sewn Christmas Stocking designs and focusing on the sale of her Knitted Kits and Patterns. At the end of 2020 she said goodbye to her staff of employees and has once again become a solo entrepreneur.

Here is how Anne describes this latest transition. “Peter Oakley and Oakley Studio, LLC have been a key part of my transition into semi-retirement. The continued reliable web support and web hosting have been crucial in making this ongoing process seamless. Peter Oakley has always been quick, thorough, and thoughtful in providing answers to any questions I have had involving transitional changes to the website that best serve our customers. I look forward to his continued counsel and expertise in revamping the website as the transition reaches completion.”

Websites evolve over time, as businesses pivot to exploit new opportunities, adjust to technological changes, and utilize new business processes that help automate online sales and extend business reach into untapped markets. Oakley Studio is in a unique position to assist small businesses in these unique website transitions they encounter over long periods of operation. We get to know our client businesses very well. Our expertise across many industries, working with online businesses for many years, is a valuable asset. We’ve been “reinventing website hosting” for a quarter of a century, and website transitions like the ones described here are what motivate us to serve the smallest of small businesses. We love seeing businesses grow and succeed, and we love contributing to that growth with our expertise.