We are big fans of the beautiful bookbinding done by Rag & Bone Bindery for photo albums, journals, guest books, baby books, and more. I’ve been in touch with Jason over the years, and I was so happy to get an inside look at the evolution of Rag & Bone Bindery’s website.
They have been around a long time, and it’s interesting to hear how retailer attitudes have changed and how ecommerce options have changed as well.
What steps did you take to plan your site launch?
Rag & Bone Bindery was founded in 1991 in the corner of my bedroom in Providence, Rhode Island. We registered the domain ragandbone.com and launched a primitive website in 1996 primarily used as a ‘virtual’ catalog for our wholesale customers. There was no shopping cart component, simply PDF downloads and pages such as ABOUT, CONTACT, HISTORY, etc.
In 2002 we launched our first retail ecommerce site. It took a few months to design – we did it all in-house from photography to coding. The shopping cart program was called HAZEL and it resided on our ‘servers’, which was actually an unused Mac sitting on the floor of my office. We were excited to start targeting retail customers (at the time we only sold retail at craft shows and studio sales) however, from the moment we launched our site, our wholesale customers contacted us to complain. Specifically, the message we were getting was that if we started to sell our books and albums direct to retail customers, then wholesalers would not buy from us anymore. The volume of concern from our long term customers was enough that we pulled the retail site after only a few months. The domain returned to a ‘virtual catalog’ format.
But things change.
In 2005, we re-launched our retail ecommerce site (using Monstercommerce) and the feedback from wholesalers was completely different. The responses we received were similar to, “Hey, looks like you have a new website. Looks great. Anyway, I need to place an order”. No complaints, just compliments.
Since 2005 our retail site has grown every year, even while our wholesale business has diminished due to the economy and fewer wholesalers to sell to.
And on the plus side, we no longer print catalogs. We use our ecommerce platform as both a retail and wholesale shopping site.
We switched platforms and rebranded our site again in October of 2010. At the time we were very excited about the change – especially right before the holidays – however, the timing turned out to be poorly considered. We radically changed the navigation of the site and also the product page layouts. In hindsight, this change may have been either too soon (though customers are used to it now) or perhaps better suited to a launch earlier in the year so as not to hurt holiday sales.
Since then, our ecommerce site has been our main focus, specifically with ad dollars and sales / promotions.
We update the site yearly (new homepage, layout, etc).
How did you get the word out?
Since the 90’s we have included our website on all of our packaging. Until 2012, we did not advertise except targeted ads on a few blogs we liked (Decor8, etc). Currently we work with Adroll.
What went better than expected?
We’re very happy that we can do all the work in-house. The only cost to the ecommerce site is the hosting. Keeping up with the technology hasn’t been an issue for us specifically, as we sell a handmade product (not high tech) and many of our customers are looking for a simple shopping experience.
What would you change if you could do your last website launch again?
If we could do it all again I would hire professionals to create our site. We can maintain the site after launch, but having a focused branding and overall professional critique of the site would have helped us along the way. Especially with design/navigation and social media marketing.
Thanks for asking!