Some of you may have noticed and rightfully wondered why there doesn't SEEM to be much going on at Storefront Themes lately. Other than continuing our stellar support of our existing customers on our support forums, we haven't launched any new themes in 8 months. I'd like to take a few minutes and explain this before making the biggest announcement in our history.
The story thus far...
In late 2009 I launched a theme which is now called "Storefront Original" on ThemeForest. It was one of the first premium ecommerce themes in WordPress history. It single-handedly provided with a sustainable income to the point that I decided to make a business out of it. 10 months later I launched Storefront Themes which was the first WordPress eCommerce theme shop. When the shop launched, we launched with a new theme, "Storefront Elegance". A month later, we moved Storefront Original off of ThemeForest and began selling it on SFT. Fast-forward to December of 2011 and we had 10 of the best premium themes out there.
We were successful enough that we'd like to think that we inspired our competition and now we're no longer the only ones in the game. New dedicated eCommerce theme shops have arisen and new platforms like WooCommerce and Jigoshop have given even more momentum to the eCommerce world of WordPress. They've also provided competition for WP eCommerce (the platform that I'm proud to say we develop for) and this has (I think at least) in turn kept WPEC reaching for new heights in order to stay on top (which you can clearly see from their blog).
I'm proud to have been a player in the evolution of WordPress eCommerce over the past 3 years. Because we were a first-to-market company, we've had a lot of trial and error as there was no one to really copy for what we were doing. However, in turn, we've had a lot of "firsts" as a result, and those "firsts" have led us to greater things. Let me share a few examples...
In the fall of 2010, I was so proud to be a part of launching "Storefront Insights". It was designed one of my best friends, George Ortiz and it provided the first integration of WordPress eCommerce sales and Google Analytics. Essentially this combined shop data with Google analytics and gave shop owners information they never had before as they could now see their cart to checkout ratios, gauge their customer peak selling hours, and a ton more.
We still offer Storefront Insights, but more importantly, it set George out on a path. He realized how valuable this type of data was. So...one day last year, we went to WordCamp San Francisco. He had begun talking about an idea where an application could be built to allow plugin developers, theme developers and content creators to send data to a centralized service and have it compared with other plugins, themes and sites in the same genre so they could determine how well they were performing against the market. He pitched the idea at a lightning round talk at WCSF, and one month later, he just started building it. Within two weeks he had the first beta version out the door and the rest of the history is currently being written as Press Trends is now a one-of-a-kind product that is taking the WordPress world by storm.
Because WPEC went through a major overhaul in the spring of 2011, we had to be the first to have all our themes be compatible with the new version. The move to custom post types meant a rewrite of major proportions of our code in each of our themes. However, the result was, we were able to give our customers more features. For example, we could offer multiple product images without an upgrade. Another feature that didn't come standard before was search. Now, how can you run an ecommerce shop without search? However, we felt search, even with a paid upgrade was lacking...
I was inspired by Apple's website when I searched for a product like "Macbook". The search results page was broken into several sections showing different types of content. There was section for blog posts about "Macbook". There was a section for pages. Of course, there was a section for products. I felt this was how search should work, especially on a WordPress eCommerce site, where I assume most shop owners are also going to blog about their products. So, I set about implementing it in our themes. At first, it was very basic...simply a list of search results that identified themselves as a blog, page or product. However, with Storefront Echo, I went all out. When you search for a product like "Macbook" there, you get a search results page broken into three columns, with links to page titles on the left, blog post titles and excerpts in the middle, and product images with add to cart buttons on the right. Unified search was truly born.
Echo was something that I designed as a sort of flagship theme. It incorporated the Unified Search mentioned above. It was our first Responsive theme (and still my favorite mobile theme). It was BuddyPress and BBPress compatible. And, it was the first Universal eCommerce theme. I'd dreamed of it for a while, and finally made it a reality. You can activate WP eCommerce, WooCommerce or Jigoshop and the theme will use the appropriate code for it's sliders, carousels, product pages...even the options panel will only show the options for that particular platform. I'm also proud to say that this new feature has been essentially bug-free from day one.
I've been proud to have been a part of these firsts. Again, it's been trial and error all the way. Some stuff, like the above, really worked well. Some stuff didn't, like our music-themed promotion last December 😉 (hey, we had fun doing it!). I've blogged about eCommerce. I've built several shops myself. I've used almost every platform out there. I've spoken at WordCamp about it. The bottom line is, my experience is probably my greated asset in my decision-making with eCommerce and it is what has led me to taking the next big risk at Storefront Themes...
If it ain't broke don't fix it...unless you hate it
So far, Storefront Themes has done very well commercially. It has been profitable from day one and has provided stable income for our little team of 3 people. However, something happened last winter...I realized that the themes were getting harder to support and keep up-to-date. Our customers and even my amazing support tech, Mark Gason, started begging us to stop releasing new themes and spend time focusing on the old ones to make sure they were up-to-date. Well, that's a problem. It's a problem because we obviously need to produce new themes if we want to stay competitive and keep revenues. But more than that, it was a problem because of this: for the first time in it's history, I wasn't proud of our product anymore.
That last line was painful to even write. However, it is true. You see, the reason I have always loved my job is because I have been proud of the product. I literally get to help people achieve their dreams of financial independence and entrepreneurship. I love getting emails about how our product has helped people and how easy it is to use. Having said that, I have realized that the path that we're on is not sustainable. eCommerce requires much more code than a regular WordPress theme and that code is updated much more frequently. If we are going to continue to lead the way in eCommerce theme development, we need to have a platform that streamlines this process and makes support and updates more efficient.
Yes, we were still selling. Yes, it would have been better for me financially in the short-term to spend more time developing new themes. However, I really couldn't stomach the fact that our themes might be less than stellar. Something had to change...
We need a new WordPress theme framework
I quickly decided that the best situation would be to have a theme framework that contained all of the functionality that we might need in a good eCommerce theme and simply build child themes for the front-end creativity that is the heart of our business. I checked out every framework out there. I quickly found that our community is rich with many talented developers who have made some excellent frameworks. However, after much searching, I couldn't get away from the fact that our needs were somewhat unique and if I had the ability and means to create the framework myself, then I needed to just do it.
So here is the announcement: For the past several months I have been building a brand-new theme framework that will provide the basis for all of our themes moving forward. It is called Skematik and among others, it boasts the following feature-set...
- It is built with HTML5 and CSS3
- It is built with the latest Twitter Bootstrap library
- It is a mobile-first framework with touch elements instead of hover
- It is compatible with BuddyPress
- It is compatible with WPeCommerce, WooCommerce and Jigoshop
- It incorporates the new Theme Customizer in WordPress 3.4 for styling options
- It has it's own Templating Engine, allowing you to set a page layout for every single page OR POST
- It has a custom sidebar component which allows you to create your own sidebars and set them on any page or post
- It has built in shortcodes for most of the Bootstrap library components
- It is one of the most developer-friendly WordPress themes out there, with built-in Options library, Metaboxes, custom hooks and filters for the Theme Customizer and Shortcodes and much more!
So...where is it? When can we get it?
Here's where I really need some help actually. The theme framework is about 95% complete. I'm just buttoning up a few loose ends. However, I still need to finish all of the documentation and developer resources before it is released. We designed this first as an eCommerce framework, but it ended up taking on a shape of it's own in that it really is an all-around theme framework for developing just about anything with WordPress.
To that end, in lieu of a pre-order process, we thought we'd have some fun and start a GoFundMe campaign. You can see the project fundraiser page here and you'll notice that there are some VERY attractive rewards listed. You can also read up on the framework on the actual Skematik website at http://skematiktheme.com.
I really need your help to get this product out the door and I hope you'll find the compensation is rewarding enough.
Lastly, I want to thank all of our nearly 5000 customers who have been so patient and loyal during this time. I promise, that this has all been for your benefit and you can expect the greatest things yet from Storefront Themes in 2013 and beyond!
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