I was approached by Marshall Home in July of 2020 because several of their projects had fallen a bit off of the rails, and they needed both guidance as well as additional hands to find better footing. They were several months behind on catalog development and their small workforce was struggling to keep up with their work volume as they continued further into what was becoming their most profitable year as a company. In addition to normal growing pains, we're also just a few short months into the Covid-19 pandemic and the world is still adjusting to the "new normal" and everything else that came along with it.
There were several, but we'll be focusing on the software and web product changes in this outline. For starters, Marshall Home Corporation is a $10m+ company that consists of 6 brands and had an admin team of 6 people. 6 brands meant 6 individual webstores and administration portals to manage, on top of 3rd party services like amazon and Wayfair. Their employees were also managing several email inboxes each, none of which were clear to either the staff or their customer for purpose or workflow. Customers from each brand couldn't make simple orders online. They could fill out forms and requests, but quotes, invoices, order tracking, and updates had to be done manually by a Marshall employee once received. Lastly, Marshall had thousands of backorders in the system from lack of inventory - including discontinued items. Customers could only find out current inventory levels by placing their order, or calling and speaking with someone on the phone.
There are a lot of moving pieces to this puzzle, but because the primary concern here was alleviating pressure from the internal team most of the research done focused on finding the correct operational tools as well as what functionality would need to be built custom for the site.
Due to the small team and need for simple management, I chose Shopify as the backend software to host the new website. It's incredibly easy to create and assign user logins so each employee has their own login to the admin panel along with custom permissions so they can't change or access anything that they're not supposed to. Each employee's actions are also tracked for quality control. Because of Shopify's login system, this also means that all of the employees need only log in to one place to be able to manage orders from all of their stores in one place. Also, because it has a rather successful front-end editor, this would make small changes to marketing material incredibly easy for the team after some training so that they wouldn't need to rely on me or another professional for everything.
Next, the company was already utilizing an ERP system to track their orders, invoices, and accounting needs. This meant that unless we wanted to manually move orders from Shopify to the ERP, we needed software to translate data from one system to the other. After some research and phone calls I found a 3rd party partner that would be able to provide a mostly-pre packaged solution. This saved a ton of time, but also presented some challenges as the way in which Marshall has been able to keep up with such a lean team comes from improperly utilizing rather large pieces of the ERP's functionality. After working closely with the development team partner, we were able to workshop together a data flow that kept both systems happy and allowed orders to pass through.
The first step in making something like this make sense, especially for such a small team, is streamlining workflows and infrastructure. The company's Controller/Primary Business Admin was currently managing Local Workstations (Basic User Setup, Software Installation, New Machine Deployment), Email Accounts (Backend Management through an small company in Texas), Website Updates & Web Inventory, Answering Phone Calls, and providing HR support for the entire company (including the 15-20 warehouse employees).
Step One was removing as much of this responsibility from her shoulders as possible so that she can focus on her actual duties.
I took over local IT Server and Workstation management, including migrating their existing email service into Microsoft 365 for simple remote user management and access to full versions of Microsoft Office Applications. This both drove their overall cost of doing business down and I began stripping the number of inboxes being managed down to the bare minimum. I also set up profiles in Windows Server so that the team would only need to create new users on the domain, and upon logging in for the first time would install all of the necessary software - eliminating the need for the admin to spend hours if not days setting up new machines when they arrive or new employees when they're hired.
I created generic inboxes for things like "orders" and "support" that multiple people could monitor, all through a single generic company email domain we purchased (mhcorp.co) instead of relying on inboxes from each company domain (marshallhomeandgarden.com, banyandesignslimited.com, etc). The new domain would also be home to the new Marshall Home website.
Now, each employee has a single personal inbox and access to the necessary shared team inboxes that service all 6 companies.
Simplifying the Branding
Now that we have communication a bit more streamlined, let's make it all make more sense to the outside eye. After some conversation with the owner - he made the decision to "sell" all of the imprint companies to his most successful company, Marshall Home Corporation (an umbrella that already hosted Marshall Home & Garden and Banyan Designs). With this move, we can start branding the companies together, and we can move forward with new plans for the new website. We decided to go with something simple & elegant that matched but not copied the existing Marshall Branding.
Stronger Product Stories
Beyond redesigning the logo, we also had an upwards battle to fight with product branding. Many, if not most of the images on this site were taken in excess of 10 years ago, or using equipment that was 15+ years old. Many of the images were low resolution, poorly lit and colored, and generally unflattering. Both through new photography and photoshop, we've begun really changing the optics of this company at almost every visible level. Removing backgrounds from photos of art pieces, planning on-location photoshoots for garden decor, and using proper whitebox equipment to shoot jewelry and small accessories. The results speak for themselves, and many of these product found new life post launch.
An All-New, Unified Shopping Experience
With the branding projects underway, now it's time to tackle the biggest problem of them all - the website.
We spent a lot of time talking about what we needed to make the website successful and laid out a staged process to get everything taken care of by the time the new catalog was set to launch. The primary goals we were hoping to accomplish were:
- Unified shopping experience for the end customer
- One wholesale-customer approval process for all companies
- One admin area to manage online orders, customers, and products
- Easy navigation between companies that doesn't leave customers lost or confused, but still clearly defines the product lines
- A modern eCommerce experience similar to that of working with other familiar DTC sites, but for B2B customers
- Making vital information accessible (like inventory) to customers to reduce the need for incoming phone calls
At the Top, you'll notice my favorite part - the company selector. Each Company under Marshall Home has it's own Landing Page and Mega-Menu style Navigation to browse the individual product lines. Each company still maintains it's former URL as a redirect to the new website and appropriate landing page - so if you type in "BanyanDesignsLimited.com" it takes you to the Banyan Landing Page, but it's still a part of the same website frontend and backend.
Further, we shot some introductory videos explaining all of these changes to the end customer to speed up their learning of the site. These are located behind the "Click Here to Learn More" button above.
- A large, bold header pushes the primary collection for each Company to romance the customer on landing.
- The "New Arrivals" Section automatically updates itself with the newest products that are added to the website.
- The promotional tabs are updated when new events come around.
- As the target customer skews older, a focus on contrast, good spacing, and large buttons/interaction points came to fruition for accessibility
- All in all, a much brighter, modern, and unique feeling landing page from anything they were working with before.
The Actual Shop
A simple collection page shows a cleaner, more organized selection of items. In this screenshot, we are logged out - so pricing is hidden dynamically. Being as Marshall is a wholesale-first company, public pricing could run us into trouble. Potential customers can apply, using the button on the top left, to become a dealer. Once approved (a process easily done via email) they are able to log in and see all of the specifics to pricing.
Along with a store this size (almost 3,000 SKU's) product management can become an issue. So we went through and categorized all of the items, and tagged them with relevant features. Meaning, if you hit the "filter" button in the top left, you can filter these paintings by style, frame color, size, or even the subject of the photo. This makes it incredibly easy for customers to find what they are looking for.
The text is clean, and easy to read. The website colors used are neutral as to keep text readable and not distract from the products or company colors.
*everything is marked sold out because of the inventory integration being in progress when this screenshot was taken.
Solving the Inventory Issue
One of the biggest problems with Marshall's organization was their inventory. Customers would place orders and sometimes be able to get less than half of their order. This was an understandably frustrating experience for them, and not only led to a lot more admin time for the internal team, but also additional calls from customers who had started to walk through their orders item by item to make sure they would be in stock before they placed an order.
To solve this, a partner and I designed and developed this custom block for the product page which not only showed the inventory currently on hand, but also the inventory that's on the way. This was important to Marshall because if they can receive an item and turn it back around right away, this takes a lot less time than receiving it, storing it, locating it, picking it, and shipping it again. For this, we built not only a visual for the front end, but also a connector that would pull information from the Purchase Order section of their ERP and feed it into the website in relatively real time. This meant that when Marshall placed their PO, the "On Order" section of the product page would be updated automatically (after doing some math to account for bad product). This both helps customers have relevant info on what they can buy while they're making their decision, but also encourages purchases for items getting low on stock.
Additionally, a "send notification when product is back in stock" flow through their email provider to try and capture more quick turnaround sales.
It was a LOT of work, but the team is much more capable of keeping up and have been able to shift many of their responsibilities and focuses on new tasks that ultimately help the company move forward at a much faster pace. They can run with fewer sets of hands, fewer phone calls, and can now focus more on taking care of their customers rather than keeping up with the day-to-day. All in all this project was a great success for all parties and I look forward to continue finding new projects to work on together.