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Breakthrough Case Study
In April 2016, The Graphic Cow Company approached Kopis with a dire situation. Their sole developer, who had built their custom ERP system, had passed away unexpectedly. At the time, this colleague was managing all daily processes and maintenance.
“He built the solution we were using and knew it inside and out, but we didn’t yet have a lot of back-ups or training in place. We relied on him completely,” said David Carter, founder and CEO of the company. “Every morning, I got a maintenance email first thing letting me know that all systems were running correctly. That morning was the first time in 11 years that I didn’t get that email, and I knew right away that something was wrong.”
When their daily processes stopped running, their order process went down and their updates quit working. For example, their database requires a daily update in order to integrate with PayPal and process payments.
“This was a major issue for our small company,” said David. “We were flatlining. We had made major strides toward eliminating any single points of failure. Unfortunately, we weren’t quite there yet, and I had to face the fact that we were in big trouble in addition to dealing with profound grief at the loss of a close friend and colleague.”
David and his management team had known they were outgrowing their legacy system and had been talking about investing in new software to replace their custom ERP solution for a while, but they were in growth mode and primarily focused on serving clients and growing new markets. Concurrently, their investments as a company weren’t in development advances, they were mostly centered around improving customer experience and product enhancements.
The Graphic Cow Company has been providing high-quality custom apparel to schools, student groups, churches, sports teams, companies, and other organizations since 1994. Originally founded in order to bring great art and fine design to the world of screen printing, the company has made many additional innovations during their two decades of operation, especially in the area of customer service. The Graphic Cow offers an integrated, individual payment platform and a personalized packaging process that makes collecting payments and distributing shirts to your group simple and seamless.
“We were really the first company out there that came up with an integrated ordering, payment, and distribution solution for this niche market,” said David. “The group organizer can login to an account and see the full order, who has paid, and who hasn’t without ever having to worry about collecting payments from individual members. Once payment for the order is complete, we ship boxes of individually packaged and labeled shirts alphabetized by last name. It’s a completely custom experience that takes the pain away for group organizers, which has helped us expand our business from $2 million in sales to $8 million. Of course, this kind of expansion naturally created some growing pains even before we lost such a key player on our team—in particular, the need to update our site and replace our legacy systems with a more robust, updated solution.”
“Once the initial shock was past, I had to make some important decisions,” David said. “One of my first calls was to Kopis, who was referred to us by a trusted partner, Immedion.”
David asked Kopis to come onboard for the project, which he saw as having three distinct goals:
“We designed the custom-based site several years prior, and a lot of functionality has changed since then. We had been making gradual updates to the site, but over the years, user expectations had changed. I realized that involving Kopis in the process, from the ground up, could help us rethink how our site would work and how potential customers would move through the site; while we were updating the back-end, it made sense to simultaneously upgrade the front-end user experience as well.”
In order to stabilize the company, Kopis quickly dug into all of the nightly processes, collaborating with David and his team on what was most important. “Adam (Drewes, Kopis CMO) personally dove in and looked at every critical ongoing process,” said David. “He went through looking through thousands of lines of code, making necessary changes. In doing so, the Kopis team broke the overhaul down into discrete segments so it never felt overwhelming. And this was all during April, which is always our busiest month. They stemmed the bleeding and got us through April.”
“David came to us at a time when we as a company were already at full capacity,” said Adam. “Part of our promise is not to throw untrusted resumes at a problem. Many of our team members were already working overtime on projects due to how the projects overlapped at the time. Having recently switched over from development, I agreed to take on the highest priority items to reduce the immediate strain.”
With the crisis under control, Kopis spent the summer working through underlying structural improvements, automating previously manual processes. In addition, they worked with The Graphic Cow’s team to plan the larger front end improvement, as well as making recommendations for the best use of resources. Together with The Graphic Cow Company, they created a wish list and a six month plan, setting a launch date for early 2017.
“In our partnership with Kopis, we got the best of both worlds,” said David. “We have a design background, so they let us maximize our budget by using in-house talent to develop the customer-facing piece, how we wanted the site to look and work, and they provided the consulting and the back-end support.”
Graphic Cow launched its new, user-friendly website in early 2017. The new design provides a much more fun, interactive customer experience through the ordering process.
“User expectations have changed a lot since we first developed our site,” said David. “We understood our site demographics, which were telling us that most of our users are 18 to 24 years old. They’re young. Well, our previous site required user engagement before we gave them full access to the site—users had to register. Young people don’t want to do that. They want instant access. We had actually been measuring registrations versus proof requests versus final orders, so we could see exactly where people gave up. This was powerful data that was a driving force behind the changes we made.”
In addition to getting rid of the registration requirement, the team decided to add elements of interactivity and exploration to the site.
“We all got in the room together and talked about what someone who wanted to design a T-shirt would do first,” David said. “This was our first light bulb moment. We came up with the metaphor of the sandbox with scattered tools, where someone can just walk up and play. That’s how we decided we wanted the new site to work. No delay, no registration. The only goal is to get users to go through, play with our tools, and interact with our site. If they like the offer, then they can take the next step.”
“Our biggest challenge was designing a site that would be simple and appealing, even for users with no experience in screen printing or custom T-shirts,” David said. “How we talked users through the ordering process before was verbose, we often used jargon, and the whole thing just needed to be streamlined. The consulting Kopis gave us was invaluable. We understood our audiences; However, Kopis’ process and expertise on options for interaction helped our team rethink the way we spoke to them and engaged them. Now someone with no ordering experience can go through the entire process without feeling intimidated or put off.”
According to David, a huge win as a result of the work is that today, those daily updates are a thing of the past. “Kopis made our daily reconciliation with PayPal and other outside vendors automated, so we can see it in real time. The thing I appreciate most about our partnership with Kopis is how they took a complicated, crisis situation and made us feel confident it was under control. They not only helped us get through the tough spot, they also took a deep look at our resources and our business process and showed us how we could become an even more viable company in the future.”