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PatentWear… Labor of Love

Our family’s small online e-commerce company, PatentWear, is finally up and running again, after more than 3 months of work on my end. What took so long?

Wellll… our long-time printer (since the 90s!) suddenly decided to retire, giving us eight days’ notice in February 2017, which meant our website shopping cart had to be quickly disabled. None of the products were available as displayed, since they all matched that printer’s capabilities and pricing. We scrambled to find a new partner, and were lucky to come across CHIPS in Indiana, with the most wonderful Kornit DTG printer (and an amazing art production department!) and were able to (relatively) quickly set up a “sister” site on their platform with our designs on apparel products that they offered. Whee—the perfect stop gap at!

Meanwhile, our own wonderful website, developed by Jeremy at Eleven Tree Media, was lying dormant after showing great signs of promise (lots of orders!) when we relaunched it with his refreshing new design in April 2016. But all that came to a screeching halt when the printer bailed on us to, of all things, retire! We were unable to integrate our own woocommerce website with the sister site, and, the sister site/partner could not offer other products besides apparel, like mugs and prints.

Thus, our search continued for a solution that would integrate our own existing website (that we had worked so hard to rebuild from a previous dinosaur) with a printing/fulfillment system. There are several “out there” and after carefully reviewing each one, watching online videos of their setups and other clients’ comments, ordering samples from each, we finally decided on one that even has a fulfillment center in Europe—Printful. They provide a wide variety of products, although our designs don’t necessarily fit them all. Still, we have those options down the line if we wanted to develop something further.

Once we chose the platform, the long and tedious work began, and that’s where I came in (well, I was there in the beginning, but, I digress). First, each art file for our more than 100 designs—a dark and light version of each plus front-left-chest prints!—had to be manually cleaned up (the new printer is far less forgiving than the old one that didn’t print “white” and so every random pixel had to be removed—our art files, parts of which were originally gleaned from PDFs, all looked like they had the measles!) to match the new printer’s specs. Then the colors for each garment had to be chosen according to the new printer’s availability, and the art files applied to each variant to create the mockup images that appear on the website to the customer. Then, all of those had to be loaded one by one (well, some were in batches) into the product description’s variants. All of this careful, detail-oriented work took me, working alone, about two months.

The next huge step was to integrate all our existing products with the new printer via an API key. They advised adding the products from their end, but, since ours already existed with the images we wanted, I did things the long, hard way: manually adding each and every color and size variant for every product on their platform, after having done so at the woocommerce end! Even if I had done it “their way” I would have had to change each and every image anyway (their mockups weren’t representative of our designs, I thought), so, it was really 6 of one and a half dozen of the other. This step took another several weeks, working an average of 8-10 hours a day, with lots of interruptions along the way. 🙂

Once all that hard work was finished, Jeremy re-enabled the shopping cart and payment gateway on our own site—all systems were a go. Amazingly, we received our first new order almost immediately—still not sure how that worked!

It was a huge task, basically rebuilding our entire store from scratch (except for Jeremy’s web design framework), but, we are all very pleased with the final result, and glad the whole thing is nearly entirely automated now. I learned a tremendous amount over these past few months, more about all the little intricacies and capacities of woocommerce, what it takes to integrate with another fulfillment platform (lots of hard work when you already have nearly 500 products, but, a big payoff when it’s finished), and, even some new tricks to clean up art files in Photoshop (create a 3px stroke in bright red for each layer to see those random pixels that WILL print and look like dust sprinkled on your final product!).

Labor of love: a task done for pleasure, not reward. However, I think I got a bit of both, in the end. The pleasure is complete satisfaction with a finished project well-done, and the reward is all that new knowledge I acquired. Happy to pass along any of that knowledge that might help others faced with such a herculean task, too—just contact me!

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