Every industry has their premier trade show. The principal event of the industry. The global summit that celebrates excellence in the field. The exhibition that can make or break a fledgling business.
For media creation, it’s the International Broadcasting Convention. The IBC Exhibition is the most influential annual event for professionals in the creation, management and delivery of media, and a place where businesses go to showcase their latest innovations.
It was at IBC2014 where the Hillrigs team decided to launch their innovative track and dolly system. With over 55,000 attendees, the stage was set for an explosive entry into the industry.
And that’s exactly what they did. Up against huge international companies that had been around for years and with a tiny budget, they showcased their products to the world and even won an award for the best camera motion device.
That’s pretty amazing, considering that just four years ago Hillrigs was only an idea on a napkin. Jim Hill, one of the co-founders, was running a digital design agency, while his wife had just left her career in TV. They ran a service creating online video property tours for exclusive properties in Europe.
They found that they couldn’t find proper hardware and equipment with their budget and were using DIY equipment much of the time. They needed really good track and dolly systems to give them beautiful shots for their videos, but there weren’t any in the market to suit their needs.
Jim approached his father Dave Hill, who has a background as an engineer and product developer, and they began to design and build the first version of the product.
For four years they’ve been designing, building, testing, iterating, and perfecting their track and dolly system. With the help of friends they have been able to test it in the field and constantly iterate on the product. Their careful approach, and the fact that they needed it for their own work, culminated in a state-of-the-art product that they were ready to unveil to the entire world.
Even though, initially, they never intended to sell the product commercially, Dave, Jim and the team soon realized that there was a huge market for it. And they didn’t just want a tiny piece of the market, they wanted a massive bite.
So, with a few days to go before the IBC trade show, they decided to set up an eCommerce store to collect orders. The big problem was that they expected lots of traffic and sales to come through following the trade show, and they needed something that could handle that.
Now, Jim has been working in tech for 20 years, so he knows his eCommerce platforms well. He has built over 15 online stores, some even fully bespoke, and he also built one of the first Magento stores mentioned on their blog when it first came out. He’s also tried several other platforms since. He also didn’t want the pain of hosting on his own servers, so he decided to try the SaaS route.
Another issue Jim faced was that he was based in the UK and served a European market. Unfortunately most other eCommerce platforms are built for US companies, so they don’t take into account the complex tax structures for EU businesses. Because of their rigidness and inflexibility, it’s hard to set up custom tax rules on them.
One of the things I saw was the ability to quickly plug Avalara in. Shopify is a great platform, but I have often come back to a thread on their forums running for 4-5 years asking about European B2B tax rules.
Because of LemonStand’s customizability, and ease of integration with softwares like Avalara, Jim found that he would be able to manage tax rules easily. The nightmare of collecting company names and VAT numbers, and verifying them in real time to charge the right amount of tax, became simple with LemonStand’s unique custom fields feature.
Once he found that LemonStand was the right fit, Jim needed to build the store, and he needed to build it quickly. Understanding that he needed to create a unique brand, Jim wanted to be able to customize LemonStand’s themes and take complete control over the look and feel of the site.
This site was built in a day and a half really. I had the design already and it was then easy to build on top of one of the templates. I took bits of the template, ditched stuff I didn’t need. That’s one of the beauties. I can strip stuff out, put something in.
What made it extremely easy for Jim to do this was LemonStand’s LemonSync feature. LemonSync is basically a way for designers and developers to work on themes locally with version control, before pushing it live to LemonStand. It’s completely open source, which means you can customize it or extend it to suit your own needs.
In fact, Jim even built an extension on top of LemonSync called LemonLeaf to help him speed up his workflow with a Gulp based front-end build process. With a little extra help from jQuery and Bootstrap, Jim was able to manipulate the design easily and have something up and running in no time.
I really like the shopping cart. You don’t feel too locked in. Often building on platforms like Magento are a horror.
The shopping cart and checkout pages are a bone of contention for many discerning retailers. While many platforms allow you to customize product pages to some small extent, they give you absolutely no control over the checkout section, which is easily the most important part of any online store.
What’s worse, some platforms actually redirect customers on checkout, so they aren’t even on your store anymore. At this stage you lose all control over the shopping experience and that leads to cart abandonment.
Once Jim had crafted a superior shopping experience, the rest was easy. Installing SSL across the site and setting up shipping was a breeze. Setting up coupons took no time at all. He plugged in Stripe in just 5 minues, et voila, he had a fully functional and completely customized store in time for the tradeshow.
It took a lot of traffic after the show, we didn’t have any issues.
Winning an award at the tradeshow meant that demand for their products was huge. They needed to be able to handle huge amounts of traffic and sales, and LemonStand held up well.
Another big bonus is you don’t take transaction percentage. We sell stuff for around £2,500 per sale. It doesn’t scale if we pay an extra transaction on top of payment processors. When people take transaction amounts off, it’s really unfair because you’re paying a lot more. I definitely like the flat monthly fee, it makes a lot of sense.
Transaction fees may not seem like much when they’re stated in percentages, but they really catch up to you if you sell high-priced items, or large volumes. Many eCommerce platforms take a 1-2% cut of sales. This is negligible if you make $1,000/month, but once you start growing, it adds up.
And Hillrigs will definitely be growing. With their success at IBC they sold out their entire stock, including a kit to the Director of Photography of 24 and Dallas, Rodney Charters! They were also featured on the Go Creative show, where Rodney and other experts talk about their portable dolly system.
— Hillrigs (@hillrigs) September 14, 2014
Right now, they are taking pre-orders for their next production run and they have plans to add new products in the near future. Have a look at their website here for some design inspiration. They also have a video walking through their product design methodology and lots to see in their blog.
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