Both Magento Open Source and Adobe Commerce are great solutions for eCommerce sites that are growing, and need more versatility/customization than its counterparts. With that flexibility comes the necessity to decide which integrations are best, if you need a third party developer, and eventually, asking yourself, “do I need to move from Open Source to Commerce?” You may also find yourself asking, “can I port my site over, and how much downtime will I experience?”
Fortunately for you, 121eCommerce recently spoke with Brandon Hong, the Operations Manager, from Cognito Motorsports on the successful porting of their website from Open Source to Commerce. We also asked them the specifics on what made them choose 121eCommerce, and how working with us has been different from other agencies. Our Senior eCommerce Marketing Manager, Cole Godsey, led the interview with Brandon.
Cole: Tell me a little bit about you and your role with Cognito, Brandon. What do you do on a day to day basis?
Brandon: I’m the Operations Manager, so I oversee lots of things. We have about seven departments that I oversee, and about 55 employees across two shifts and two buildings.
I also manage all the eCommerce stuff as far as being a primary web admin for any serious structural changes or project related things, implementation, extension, configuration, things of that nature. The website is something that I have a primary role in, and then we’re starting to rebuild our Marketing department. We have a Marketing coordinator currently, and then we have another Marketing person that will be online Monday.
Cole: I mean, we’re kind of in the same boat over here, too! From my role, like, I kind of do a little bit of everything, it’s, maintaining our website, doing marketing and then interacting with clients. So, it keeps you busy, though, that’s for sure!
Brandon: You know, there’s never a minute where I don’t have a million things to do. We do manufacturing. And so that in itself is a force to be reckoned with. We do a lot of in house manufacturing, we build a lot of products, we build a lot of jobs, we build all kinds of stuff. I mean, we have a CNC robotic welder in house, powder coat packaging…we have an automated tubing vendor and automated sandblaster. We do a lot of stuff in house!
Cole: That’s awesome! CNC is really on the uptick lately. There’s so much in that field and even with some of the 3D printing that’s going on for parts and stuff like that. It just amazes me the technology that’s in this space!
Brandon: Yeah, we do! I mean, automation is the wave of the future for lots of reasons. You know, our biggest hurdle is the workforce pool, at least locally. And you know, I’ve been hearing and reading on a national level it is an issue too. But where we are geographically, it’s just hard to find good skilled people. We’re just constantly on the hunt. So anywhere that we can automate or streamline our manufacturing processes helps.
Cole: So with all of the stuff that you guys manage, and I know with you being on the eCommerce side, what made you decide to end up working with 121?
Brandon: I’ve been here two and a half years, but I’ve had a long term relationship with this company (Cognito). Justin, the owner and I are good friends. So the company I was at before, I built a website for that company in 2013, which was a Magento-based platform. When I got here, we were using a Webshop Manager. It didn’t take long for me to realize that that platform wasn’t very scalable for where we were trying to go; everything was literally built from scratch. And their admin and dashboard was very old school and rudimentary, and there’s a lot of coding involved. It just wasn’t very good.
I had had a relationship with an existing developer that I had built that other Magento installation with, and so I reached out to them about building a community site for Cognito. And so we ventured into that project.
It came in horribly over budget, it was horribly delayed, and the project management was terrible. They were using only remote foreign developers (as opposed to domestic developers previously). There was no common communication, because they didn’t insist that they work in our time zone. So we were always a day off. That was really problematic, because there was a break in communication. You’re talking to your project managers during the day, and then they’re trying to relay that information at night to the developers. And it was a mess. So that project didn’t go well.
When I reached out to 121, it was probably 2020.
Where it started was we had gotten an extension for integrating QuickBooks into Magento. I was doing research into developers who had experience in custom coding the modifications to that particular extension, and I ran across 121. It brought visibility to the fact that they (121) had at the time, a lot of experience in the automotive industry. And so it kind of was something that I kept in my mind.
I had talked to Ben, (the CEO at 121) so I had a conversation with him, he actually got on the phone with me in regards to that extension stuff in 2020.
He was very gracious and very transparent. I appreciated the way that he handled those conversations as we weren’t doing any business together at the time. And then when we realized that it made sense for us to go to (Adobe) Commerce, we obviously knew that we had reached the threshold of what our visiting developer could offer us from a capacity and execution standpoint.
So that’s what caused me to really reach out to 121 and then being honest, there was no downside because even the hourly rate of what I was paying for my previous project was in line with what 121 was billing. So even though the money was equal, there was no reason not to make the switch, because of the issues that I was having.
And then you know, I met with Paul and we went over some stuff, and it just didn’t appear going in there was any downside, because it wasn’t even it wasn’t even a greater monetary investment to do that. So there’s really no reason not to!
Cole: And it kind of ties into like my next couple questions. I mean, you already highlighted a bunch of the issues that you were experiencing previously. But what ultimately made you decide to switch from Open Source to Commerce?
Brandon: Mostly it was the infrastructure and the B2B tools were the primary reasons. Those are the two factors that just sort of felt like the community was cool. And then the B2B tools; we can tell that we were overdriving the community platform in the sense that everything that we needed or wanted to do, none of it was native, everything required an extension, so now I’m doing the math, and I’m like, “alright, we’re already half a dozen extensions deep. Do I want to double that just to make this thing somewhat function like we need to, and it’ll never be as nice as if these tools were native?” And then you scatter your support all over the place, because you got 30 different companies involved in trying to make your website run because of all the extensions and it just, it just didn’t seem like the move. Right?
Cole: That makes perfect sense! And I think that alone is like a perfect reason for Commerce because he said it right there. I mean, that’s what we see, not just for this case, but a lot of the clients we consult is that you end up having like 30 different points of contact just to support your site. It gets really messy.
Brandon: One of one of the biggest caveats or one of the biggest issues I had with our previous developer is that they didn’t have a lot of preference or guidance in the sense of like, on this project, for example, Paul and your guys’s team are like, “hey, if this is the shit that you want to do, these are the things that you need to do it.”
And not only did they have the recommendation as far as the tool that was required, they also knew who to use, and who they were comfortable with. They were like getting behind it, as opposed to my previous developer where I’m like, “hey, we need this functionality.”
And they’re like, “cool, go to the marketplace and shop for an extension, and email us the .zip file of the extension, and we’ll get it loaded.”
And I’m like, “well, that’s great, but I’m looking for some (guidance) you guys are the professional.”
Like I’ve said this to Paul before, but there have been situations where it’s like, “what do you want?”
And I’m like, “well, I want ABC, but I, this is not what I do for a living. So I want you to tell me or someone to tell me that that’s not what I need from a practical or best practices standpoint.”
Like, for example, we just went through the product pages as far as reformatting that and that was the way that we handled that in the sense that, yes, I want to do a new product page. And there are some things that I think that I want, but I don’t want to circumvent best practices and what I need from a practical standpoint; I want an expert opinion!
I want you guys (to tell me) because this is what you do. Guide me and tell me what I need. 121 is very good about that. That’s what I’m looking for; a sense that I don’t just need somebody to load some shit via composer and then be like, “hey, it’s in there figure it out,” you know what I mean? I need somebody that is more comfortable with what we’re doing, and isn’t just a medium to get stuff loaded onto the site.
Cole: And that’s the thing too; it will never cease to amaze me how other agencies are just like, “figure it out on your own” rather than actually helping guide you.
Brandon: I think part of it is, I mean, I’m sure there’s more than one reason, but my experience, or what I took away from the interactions I was having with the previous developer, was I could tell that we were exceeding their in-house capabilities. And so therefore, we were wanting things from them that they weren’t really set up to do. Instead of telling me, “hey, you need to go find somebody else.” They were just doing what they could or what they were willing to do to sort of suit my needs.
And I think if you’re a $1 or $2 million (revenue) company, and you’re selling t-shirts, or some basic tangible property, it’s really straightforward. Places like that can service you.
We have a very diverse catalog, we have a very diverse pricing structure, like everything we do is very diverse.
And I think it was just outside (for lack of a better word) their pay grade. So rather than just defecting from the work, they were just trying to make it work. Whereas if you were, like I said, selling t-shirts, or cupcakes or whatever, they can sort that out, because it’s a very static and less volatile situation.
As our needs grew, and the demand on our website, our (third party) development team, just couldn’t support that extra load on their own internal infrastructure.
Cole: Yeah, and you’ll definitely get that working with smaller agencies like that! I know, we ported the site over for Cognito. I just wanted to know how long it took on our side to help you with the porting of the site from OS to Commerce?
Brandon: The first move that we had was we agreed that we were going to move because we were hosting our website, on site, with a private server, with our existing developer at the time. So, we had to get this stuff moved over to LexiConn.
First, we bid that off and moved our existing community site over to LexiConn and so you guys helped get that executed. And then once that was done, basically, we were presented with two options, which was “hey, let’s just copy and paste that site over into Commerce and see how broken it gets.” And that actually went better than we thought it would. So that circumvented a lot of the not only upfront expense, but trial and error and redundancy of reinventing the wheel to try to get the thing ported over.
Cole: Compared to the other folks you’ve worked with before, how is the communication done and working with 121?
Brandon: It’s more streamlined and consistent with 121. We have a Slack channel, and that has been the primary means of communication, which is pretty transparent and open, obviously. So that has been good, where previously it was basically we would email their (previous developer’s) tech support email, and they would open a ticket and slowly but surely chip away at that.
So it’s definitely a lot a lot more straightforward.
So I think that that has been a notable improvement. But I’ve talked to Kim (our Account Manager) and she’s been great! I told Paul that that made a huge difference.
That has been the most pivotal thing that’s happened throughout the project that seems to have really improved execution and delivery of deliverables is having her on board to manage this thing for us.
Cole: Nice! I’m glad to hear that things have been going well, and the communication has been so streamlined.
Brandon: Yeah, that’s like what I explained to Paul, and I’m sure you understand, that a lot of times, it depends on what seat somebody sits in because, like, I’m sure that I have had candid conversations about this site where, you know, some, some customers have more robust internal infrastructure as far as, “hey, we just need you to do the nuts and bolts, and we’ll handle all this other stuff.”
And then I’m sure you have other clients where it’s like, “hey, we don’t even know how to log into this thing.”
So everything it needs you’re responsible for.
And then you kind of have us where we’re, I would argue somewhere in the middle. And it seems like she does a good job of understanding and deciphering what our needs are, you know what I mean? Like you, I’m very honest about where our capabilities fall off and where you guys need to step in. And she seems to be doing a good job of bringing that in the sense.
Cole: No, that’s awesome! That makes me happy to hear that too. So I’m going to kind of combine these next two questions together, because they do go hand in hand. So we know your switch news sites live. So from a business and financial standpoint, how has Cognito been impacted by switching over?
Brandon: I think it’s a little bit early to tell. Part of the reason why it’s hard to tell is because we complicated it a little bit because there was a big segment of our B2B business that we weren’t putting through our existing website. So, there wasn’t much change in revenue or in a positive or a negative way in regards to the switch only because we really didn’t change a lot like from the customer perspective, and daily use. It’s an exact copy of the existing site.
So we basically agreed that, “hey, let’s get this thing live so we can get on to the next platform, and then we’ll worry about making product page revisions and making all the optimization things like that was a second phase thing.”
So we just barely are getting some of that stuff completed. So I don’t know that we really bear too much fruit from the switch because of how we decided to execute on the launch.
Cole: Just to kind of wrap things up, and I know you’ve already highlighted this a couple times, but I just wanted to reiterate this again. Overall, how is your experience in working with 121?
Brandon: I think it’s good! I mean, I don’t have any negative things to say on a global scale.
You know, I think that people care about the way that your guys’ business is structured. The fact that Paul’s so involved in our interactions, and Kim, and all that, it feels like 121 cares. That carries a lot of weight with us just because we’re not web developers. We want partners and people involved in whatever we do that are serious about making sure the client gets what we need when we need it. And that we’re being taken care of, and at least thus far, it feels like 121 does a pretty good job at that. We’re pleased! It has worked out pretty well so far.
Cole: Awesome! With that being said, was there anything else that you wanted to add in just about anything we talked about?
Brandon: I don’t think so. That’s pretty much the gist of it. Like I said, outside of this conversation, you know, there’s a lot of transparency between Kim and Paul and I. We’re pleased with the decision we made to make the switch!
**This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity**