their effectiveness in selling
New Leaf Publishing Group is a small business that has been around for 40 years. Starting as a family-owned business publishing books, New Leaf eventually expanded into the eCommerce space, but had a smaller online presence than they would like. With their original website being built on OSCommerce, they were looking to hire a developer that could help them maintain the platform.
After coming back from Afghanistan, Chris Hallski was hired onto the team to help tackle their first project; upgrading from OSCommerce to Magento 1.
With New Leaf’s original online store, it was basic PHP coding that was not really set up for their long term growth. When Chris joined New Leaf’s team, there was minimal backup, no vendor support, and customizations were being done directly to the codebase with no version control.
This was one of the first signs that it was time to upgrade to a new platform.
Initially, Chris moved them onto Magento 1, and with his work, New Leaf’s ecommerce revenue kept doubling year over year, and as revenue increased, they had the ability to start seriously planning to upgrade their website for long-term sustainability.
While Magento Open Source had a low initial cost, adding functionality via modules from multiple vendors came at the cost of ever-increasing overhead for updates and maintenance. In addition, after moving to Magento 2 when Magento 1 reached EOL, the core Luma theme’s design around modular extensibility began having a significant performance impact on the growing cohort of mobile users.
With this in mind, Chris pushed for a switch to Commerce to have more of the business functionality covered by core code architecture.
Chris joked, “I blame Adobe!” and added:
“They recommended you as someone fit for our scale at that time, you had the skill set necessary, and were willing to work with us. Especially because I’m still (even today) highly involved in the day-to-day operations and upkeep of the site and you are willing to work with us as a partner with some in-house expertise and fill the gaps. This is versus going, “no, we need to own this entire project and we’re going to run it the way we want to and this is everything you’re doing wrong without looking at the business cases behind where we were.
That was actually extremely important, because we were in a transition period.”
As New Leaf started growing, it was essential to have an integration for tax compliance. Chris noted, “we went from being a local business with a store, to a company which has economic Nexus (sales tax liability) in 39 States. It created a massive panic of how much liability we are incurring that we have to deal with and manually updating tax tables. That’s a full-time job for somebody!”
In addition to being tax compliant, an integration for payment processing was absolutely necessary. Chris mentioned, “We were using Authorize.net, a Visa platform along with PayPal, and we switched to Braintree at some point in history. I don’t remember exactly when that was. Braintree also has hooks for Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and possibly in the future Venmo and a few others. But primarily single claim payment.”
Lastly, New Leaf needed to integrate their email marketing functionality with their site. “We initially moved to dotDigitalbecause they were bundled with Magento 2, and we’ve stayed with them because even after being unbundled by Adobe they still have extremely good Integrations fully supported by themselves. Couple that with excellent automation capabilities and we’ve been happy with them,” Chris described.
In terms of hurdles, Chris mentioned the following:
“Honestly, most of the hurdles were probably with the Open Source to Commerce migration. Magento 1 to Magento 2 actually wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We (New Leaf) did most of the extensions internally on Magento 1. We were able to translate pretty smoothly. We did do an replatform during that, so there were a couple modules that we switched out because we were using an extension for Magento 1 that did not have a direct equivalent in Magento 2. Open Source to Commerce involved a lot more work because of differences in the way data was handled by some key extensions vs how Commerce was designed.
A lot of the data mapping itself fell on us at New Leaf since we’d built up the original systems. 121 facilitated by providing firsthand knowledge of the complete change in how Magento 2 handled things. Compared to Magento 1 there was a very steep learning curve, and I was able to offload most of that knowledge gap onto your team.”
Overall, the hurdles did not cause too many issues during their development process.
“I cover our in-house IT and the website,” Chris mentioned, “If something goes wrong, especially if multiple things go wrong simultaneously, I may be able to tackle one or two of the problems. The rest I have to triage and I need extra hands. That’s where 121 helps me out.”
“We can say, “hey, we need 20 hours of back-end development this week, and 10 hours of front-end development. And, we’re going to do a deploy next week where we need 4 hours of time from someone who has been doing this on a regular basis and knows the ramifications that come with the upgrade. That is vastly better than having to learn every aspect in house to execute one time.
We need someone who knows that when you do an upgrade, things like the PHP version requirement change, but you also have to do this manual step or go through an intermediary version. Details like knowing that you cannot go directly from 2.4.3 to 2.4.6 because the Composer requirement changes in the middle for one version that supported both Composer 1 and 2. It’s all documented, but there are common steps to execute that an agency like 121 has worked through repeatedly and we can benefit from their experience.
So that’s really where 121 has been a massive value add for us: the collective expertise of everyone on your team and the ability to say, “hey, we’re not able to figure this out. Let’s ask one of the Senior Devs for a little bit and see what they have extra input. You have a brilliant person in each spot. It makes a huge difference and that’s been invaluable.”
You (121) are very responsive. We have a problem, I make a small amount of noise, and we find we’ll get immediate feedback saying, “OK. We’re going to bring this up or hey, we can’t make that change, but we’re gonna incorporate this into our next Sprint planning.”
Overall, the business impact from switching from Open Source to Commerce has been felt by Chris. On the platform itself and development side, Chris mentioned that, “we’re happy with a stable platform. We aren’t having any issues.”
In terms of what is next with the new platform, New Leaf is looking into the new functionalities, and marketing tools that come with it. As far as what’s next, Chris said that, “(We’ll be using) Dynamic blocks for customer segments, and doing targeted emails based on their interest. We’re not hounding customers around the web with retargeting advertising, but if they’ve expressed interest in or purchased particular products we want to make sure that we let them know proactively about other products that are in the lineup next time they visit us. Let’s say you bought a third grade math curriculum last year. We want to let you know that we hope we liked this curriculum, and if so, we have a fourth grade curriculum in that same product series. We don’t want to follow you around the web for three months after you purchase something with advertisements for the same exact thing that they just purchased.”
Chris is also looking into reducing their “technical debt” as they can more effectively find what extensions are being actively used, and cutting back on legacy code/customizations. He said that, “I would say the ongoing cost is a little higher than we might like. but we also have a lot of technical debt that we’ve been aggressively working on trimming down.
“I think the fact that we are still working with you (since 2017) should answer that question.
This (experience) is atypical. Sure, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence: every company is willing to look at your website, and give you an audit and say “hey, we’ll fix this for X amount of dollars.” Where the difference comes out is in executing that offering in a timely fashion and on budget. Most vendors over promise and under deliver. That has not been my experience working with you.
Your estimates are fairly accurate. If there is a cost / time overrun, it’s usually because we didn’t specify clearly enough, or it’s (because of) Adobe Commerce and conflicting extensions. You get into the weeds and you find out that something else doesn’t play nicely that was not really anticipatable. For straightforward development and new functionality, your time estimates are bang on, or even slightly pessimistic. Frequently we’re able to get stuff sorted out even quicker than you quoted.”
We are glad that New Leaf has had such a great experience, and are looking forward to continuing to help them into the future!
– This interview was edited for brevity and clarity