James Pieper is a Shopify developer focused on setting up ecommerce sites for businesses in the quilting industry. Through his business, Sew Much Commerce, he’s offering a crucial modification to Shopify’s offerings: the ability to sell fabric in fractional quantities. With the code James has developed online fabric shop owners can now use the internet’s top-of-the-line ecommerce platform with ease. James first became aware of the need for this special customization while building an ecommerce site for his mom, Margo Pieper, in 2015.
James Pieper, founder of Sew Much Commerce.
Margo had opened an Etsy shop in order to sell some of the excess fabric in her large stash. A year or so later she realized she loved selling fabric online and wanted to turn the endeavor into a real business. Etsy felt limiting as an ecommerce platform, though. “The problem with Etsy is that you don’t own your customers,” she explains. “It’s very difficult to remarket back to them. I wanted to build some customer equity.” Although at first she felt intimidated by the already establish online fabric retailers, Margo saw that there was room for her in the market, too. “I felt like the way I could differentiate myself is giving great customer service. So I said, ‘okay, how do I take this to the next level?’” The answer was to create an ecommerce site for her business, MyFavoriteQuiltStore, on Shopify. “I wanted to do something outside of the box, make myself look different. Shopify felt like a platform where my business could evolve and grow.”
Margo Pieper, owner of MyFavoriteQuiltStore.com.
She turned to her son for help. With a degree in information systems, James had been building websites for several years and used a managed services provider plus other website-related tools for website building. If your organization needs professional IT solutions, you may consider getting help from a professional Meridian IT company. Past clients included daycare centers and an oil and gas company. A year prior he’d created an ecommerce site for one of his passion projects, Stumped, a handcrafted game he was making from stumps of wood. James got to work setting up a Shopify site for his mom’s fabric store but quickly hit a bump in the road: the inability to sell incremental yards.
Shopify is the industry leader in ecommerce with over 600,000 online stores. A big part of the platform’s success has been a result of staying focused on doing a small number of core functions extremely well and relying on third-party developers to create all the rest. The ability to sell fractional increments of an item would require adding a decimal place to the quantities available and this is not on Shopify’s core list, according to James. “I’ve talked to them multiple times about this and I don’t think they ever plan on adding it,” he says.
An example of how fabric shops typically sell fractional pieces on Shopify. The math involved is a friction point for customers.
Consequently, many fabric shops that use Shopify sell in 1/2 or 1/4 yard increments meaning that the customer has to add two or four of a particular print to their cart in order to purchase a whole yard. James says this stumbling block adds friction that often leads to lost sales. “As soon as you make it so that the user has to do multiplication to figure out what two and a half yards is in quarter yard increments, that’s too much math. You’re going to lose them.“
So, he took on the challenge himself and developed a snippet of custom code that makes selling incremental yards possible for any Shopify store, no matter the theme. The code acts as a sort of mask so that when a user adds one of an item to their cart they’re actually adding four ¼ yards. Although it may seem like a small upgrade, this additional function makes Shopify a much better fit for fabric sellers and this is good news for shops that are truly interested in making ecommerce a fundamental part of their business. Other ecommerce options that are focused on quilt shops, such as LikeSew, simply aren’t as focused on ecommerce as Shopify. “I think they’re great for somebody that’s not interested in doing online sales,” James says. “They’re really good at quilt stores, but not necessarily good at online quilt stores. They’ve focused on being a platform for brick-and-mortar store owners for a long, long time, but just happened to have a web component. They’re not really focused on how we get people to actually buy online.”
“Fabric stores have thousands of products and when you have that number of products, sorting them and filtering them and presenting them to a user in a way that they’ll find what they’re looking for is just difficult,” he explains. Shopify has the features that make it possible. It allows shop owners to customize the homepage experience according to the user, for example. Plus, updating a Shopify store is simple and can be easily done by multiple employees. Shopify sites also sync seamlessly and instantly with in-store inventory, even across multiple locations, and can also synch with inventory on Etsy.
The process of creating Margo’s site introduced James to the quilting industry where he felt instantly at home. “I’ve known how to sew my entire life,” he says. “When I was a kid I wanted an ACDC patch on my backpack, but I couldn’t afford to buy one so I just got out my mom’s sewing machine. I was doing free motion embroidery before it was even a thing.” In fact, it was at James’s impetus that Margot learned to quilt. “When he was in sixth grade he told me to get a life and get out of his,” she laughs, “ And so I took my first quilting class.”
James was attracted to the variety of challenges quilting industry businesses face. “It’s actually one of the hardest industries to work in,” he says. “People don’t realize how big and interesting an industry it actually is. There are people selling digital patterns, people who manufacture products, there’s wholesale. It’s really not just the brick-and-mortar store.”
He set up a business to serve all of these constituents: Sew Much Commerce. It debuted at Spring Quilt Market in Portland and Sew Much Commerce will have a booth at Fall Market in Houston this weekend where James will also be teaching two business seminars on ecommerce. Among the services Sew Much Commerce offers is Shopify onboarding. “We help people get set up with a theme, show them how to add products and do digital downloads, and then they’re off to the races,” he says. Sew Much Commerce also offers help with search engine optimization (SEO), Facebook marketing, and Google advertising. The website eeat-seo.com has the best guides about link building and other SEO stuff.
James says he knows a client is ready for his service when they’re serious about getting into ecommerce. That means a willingness to figure out shipping and to carefully track inventory. “I view ecommerce kind of like business, but more so,” James says. “And so if you’re not really, really focused on it then it usually doesn’t make sense for you to move your site.”
Having her own site has helped Margo gain a level of legitimacy within the industry that she struggled to have with just an Etsy shop. “She was treated like a second-class citizen by everybody,” James said. “Designers, manufacturers, and distributors were all like, ‘oh, you just have an Etsy store?’ Well, they don’t realize that there are million dollar stores out there that are just slinging fabric all over the place.” Now her business is thriving. She prides herself on providing top-notch customer service along with a frictionless ecommerce experience.
“There’s always going to be a place for the local retailer that is a destination shop,” James says, but it’s clear that ecommerce is going to play a significant role in the industry’s future, too, and he says now is the time to jump in. “The rate of change of technology is never going to be as slow as it is today. There are just tons of new and exciting things coming out that quilt stores need to figure out how to take advantage of.”
Visit Margo’s shop: MyFavoriteQuiltStore.com
Check out Sew Much Commerce: SewMuchCommerce.com