You know you need a web site. A real web site. Not that monstrosity your gamer nephew built in FrontPage eight years ago before leaving for college and forgetting to update. You need a site that’s going to help you compete with your in-town competition and the out-of-town order gatherers who are looking to prey on inactive local florists.
But where do you start? There are lots of options and a wide range of prices. How does a busy florist make this crucial decision?
In this series we’ll touch on a few of the big issues you need to understand to help you make an informed decision. This first post will introduce florists to the different types of players in the arena.
The Service Provider
The service provider is a professional person or company whose primary revenue is generated by providing a suite of services to other businesses. Some may be specific to the floral industry, while others will serve a broader audience. These include wire services, Point Of Sale vendors and others who will bundle a web site as a complimentary item and additional revenue source to their main business (member fees, POS licensing, etc.).
The best thing service providers have going for them is synergy with other products and services. A service provider can often tie together an ecommerce web site with a point of sale system and other marketing tools.
The downside to service providers is that for them, web development is a sideline business that doesn’t get the full attention or resources of the company. Like a carpenter who decides to become a general contractor, they may have passing knowledge and experience of other trades but can never match the skills of an experienced dedicated professional. In the case of a medium-to-large size firm, the secondary revenue streams like web site development are not given the budget or managerial time to acquire the most competent staff.
The Florist turned web site provider is often a good-natured yet frustrated soul who for a variety of reasons has decided that the existing web site options for florists don’t meet his or her requirements. Sometimes this is motivated by features and functionality, but most often by cost. Having built a site for their own shop the florist then decides to make their model of web site available to other florists – again, usually by competing primarily on price.
The Florist has been in the trenches – sometimes for decades, sometimes for just a few years (perhaps as the long-suffering spouse of a florist). They know the industry and the unique needs of florists more than any whiz-bang technical developer who has never touched a gerbera and couldn’t spot a carnation in a spy movie.
For the Florist the web development will never be their core business or core competency. Often frustration or boredom sets in over time and development slows considerably. Once they realize the daunting task of staying current on web development trends and SEO requirements, this part-time low-revenue sideline business begins to take a back seat and customer sites show their age.
The Reseller takes an existing product produced by another company and puts their own brand on it for marketing. Much like an Order Gatherer, they invest little or nothing in product development, add little value to the service and act as a middleman between the florist and the company handling the fulfillment. Resellers commonly take a broadly available product or service and rebrand it for a specific niche. Occasionally a cost savings can be achieved if the Reseller offers the service below the retail price of the fulfillment company, but this leads to very low margins for the Reseller and often breeds discontent.
Customers in a specific niche (aka Florists) may benefit from heightened awareness of the availability of the generally available service, due to the Reseller’s targeted marketing.
Florists rarely benefit from middlemen who add no value. As Resellers are not developers, they have little real value to offer their clients. Unlike a developer who finds satisfaction in their craft, or a service provider who develops web sites to accent their main product line, the Reseller’s only motivation is profiting by selling something they didn’t develop and that motivation is easily lost with prolonged periods of low margins and low revenue. Web Sites sold by Resellers rarely have any features designed specifically for florists.
The IT Guys
As the internet became more popular in the late ‘90s many companies turned to their IT department (or IT guy, or son/spouse/nephew who’s good with computers) to build their web sites. This lead to a generation of web sites and web site companies built by people well-skilled in the world of IT. Too often stereotyped as overweight bearded basement-dwelling single men in Star Wars shirts, these IT Guys love their technology and love a challenge. Though their main purpose is developing or maintaining computers and networks, or programming new software solutions, they often are called upon to develop web solutions as well.
IT Guys love a challenge, and love to do something because they can. When controlled and directed well they can create some amazing things.
IT Guys love to build something because they can – not necessarily because it’s best for the customer, or the web site user. Concepts like SEO, Usability, visual design and the subtleties of marketing are often lost on them.
The Web Developer
The Web Developer is dedicated to building, growing and marketing web sites. This is their primary business, it’s where they make their revenue and put food on the table. The Web Developer lives and dies by the success of their web sites. Some Web Developers will focus on 2 or 3 specific niches and really get to know the industries they are serving, while others will cater to a very broad audience.
As a professional, the Web Developer invests in staying up to date on current trends, technologies and best practices, including design, SEO and Conversion Optimization.
The Web Developer is well versed in creating and modifying web sites to meet the needs of individual clients. As a specialist, they are focused on their craft and are likely to have the best tools, contacts and experience to develop effective solutions.
A Web Developer may not be well-versed in the floral industry, unless they specialize in serving this niche. Still, a good developer will spend time getting to know the client’s business model and trying to understand their needs. If you find a Web Developer who specializes in working with florists they will likely “speak your language” already and you should feel comfortable speaking with them.
In real life, nothing is ever as clearly defined as this. There will inevitably be cross-overs between the different categories (some florists become Service Providers, some Web Developers grew up as florists, some IT Guys aren’t colour-blind), so in the end wisdom has to apply.
Ask questions like:
- “Did you develop your own platform, or are you using someone else’s?”
This will help you determine if it’s possible for the web site provider to adapt to meet your needs.
- “How long have you been offering web sites?”
Did the company just launch last month? Beware, lest boredom or low profits drive the provider away and leave you stranded.
- “Can you provide me with examples of work for other clients, especially florists?”
You want to make sure that they really do have lots of other clients, that the sites they have developed for other florists suit your goals, and that the sites are not shockingly identical to each other.
In all of this, we haven’t touched on the issue of support and training. For providers like the Florist, full-time support availability may be a real concern. After all, they get busy at the same time of year you get busy, right? Smaller IT Guys and Service Providers may not be able to staff full-time support, especially support personnel who are well-versed in the ins and outs of the web site platform. The same is true of some Web Developers, though the likelihood of someone with experience and knowledge being available to answer your question in a timely manner is much higher, as the Web Developer won’t be rotating in people from the POS support team.
Tell us what you think! Did we help? Hurt? Confuse? Did we miss someone in our roster of florist web site developers?