The following post is brought to you by Squarespace. Our partners are hand picked by the Design Milk team because they represent the best in design.
Neon colors have taken over the runways and street style blogs for the past several years so it was only a matter of time before neon signs infiltrated the decor space (move over marquee letters!). And they’ve been embraced with open arms by design magazines, blogs and Pinterest boards. Lately, neon has become even more affordable (and for sale at big box stores like Target). But unless you had a neon artist on speed dial (or very deep pockets), it’s been a little difficult to get your name written in lights. (Or your mantra. Business name…Or just about anything custom). Until now! Name Glo has taken up the challenge to get your name in lights.
The company was started by Lena Imamura and Sas Simon, in 2014. Sas was on the hunt for the perfect baby shower gift for her soon-to-be-born nephew. She hit on the idea of having a neon sign made for his nursery, but couldn’t find a source. In one of those light bulb moments, she remembered that her high school friend, Lena had a neon sign in her apartment, and so reached out. The rest is Name Glo history.
Of course, it didn’t happen quite that quickly. Lena had been making light-based sculptures post art school—not only did she love the power effect of neon, but she also loved that it didn’t take up too much space in her tiny NYC apartment. The pair spent the next two years taking commissions and fine-tuning the custom ordering process on their Squarespace site. (They had to develop a way of making custom ordering simple and intuitive.) Finally, they opened their cyber “doors” on April 12, 2016. On their “almost” anniversary, we asked them to look back on their first year of e-commerce and share the challenges (and highlights!) of making a custom business work on Squarespace.
What template did you use and did you experiment with others?
We use the Marta template (believe it or not) and we’ve really pushed the template with a lot of custom CSS. We love that Squarespace allows this.
We did a lot of research on different templates, comparing and contrasting all the various features. Yet despite all the research we went with Marta because it was just the most simple and clean. We trusted that the custom CSS would take our site to where we wanted it to be—and voila, it worked!
How long did you spend working on the site design? Did you work with a designer or did you do it yourselves?
We both like to divide and conquer, which is the beauty of having a partner who has totally different strengths from yourself. Lena does all the design work from the site to the branding to the neon designs. Our friend and great designer Stine Westergaard developed the logo for us. And from our rough estimation together, we probably invested a combined 1000 hours from inception to launch.
Can you tell me a bit about how you’ve used the platform to have a custom order business? I love the way you can try out phrases and envision how it will look in neon!
Thanks! We’re about to geek out on you, ready?
We knew we needed a custom designing process but there really wasn’t an easy solution available. After speaking with a bunch of Squarespace developers and getting outrageous quotes left and right to build a custom designing feature on the site, we came up with a simple solution that involved 1000s of woman hours
In order to recreate a custom designing process, we setup the pages so that you could pick a font, then a color, then a mounting type and a display color. We started out with 8 fonts and 9 colors and 4 mounting options and 4 display colors — if you do the math that’s 1,152 combinations…. That’s 1,152 items in our store for every combination of font, neon color and mounting type that was mapped out across 100+ page flow that created a seamless selection process.
After a handful of sales we decided to invest into developing our own custom design interface that you see on the site today. It’s actually hosted on a separate domain because it’s a web application (an app that works in a browser window). What you see there now is an MVP (minimum viable product) while we learn more about user needs and get feedback from our clients.
We’re really innovating the medium of neon with our modernized approach and it’s our website, brand and the custom design app that’s creating that experience and telling our story. We’re so thrilled at the response we’re getting.
We did a custom bee in LED neon for a nursery of a close friend. Their daughters name is Bar and they call her “B” all the time, so we loved this one for sentimental reasons.
One of our first pieces we made were neon eggs, which we get asked about a lot. An art gallery ended up displaying the piece in their window and by chance Refinery29 spotted it and posted the neon on their Instagram. That little post really helped bring us a ton of exposure and take us to a new level
If you were starting the business today, what would you do differently/the same?
I don’t think either of us anticipated how busy we’d be so quickly, which is a great problem to have, just sometimes a little overwhelming. We haven’t advertised our product anywhere other than our Instagram account and brand collaborations, so we were both pleasantly surprised with how quickly the word has spread. In hindsight, we would have a better system in place at the very beginning with how to organize all of our orders. At this point we have it down pat, but it took a few orders to understand how best to communicate the whole process from design to production to delivery to our clientele.
We would keep our mission statement the same, which is to make every moment shine, and we really do seek to do just that.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start an online shop?
Before you have your site go live, we would definitely suggest sending it to a core group of people who can give concise and helpful feedback. Be open and receptive to change and find people you really trust and listen to them. The way we thought the site should flow was often different than several of our friends and it was important to be receptive to their constructive criticism.
What have been your biggest lessons learned this year?
I think our biggest success so far has been to say yes to everything, try it out and learn from it. Not being afraid to take risks at the beginning is very important. It’s better to learn hard and fast at first, than stay the safe course and be afraid to make changes later.
For example our first collaboration was with an illustrator in Dallas who we had never met yet she was a big fan of our work. We just went with our gut and ended up creating a beautiful piece for her which resulted in new sales. Looking back, we didn’t know her from a hole in the wall! But we took that risk anyway.
We know it’s easier said than done but trusting your instincts and taking the risks you can afford to take, only helps you grow. For a startup, we especially think it’s crucial
Any final advice for starting a business/ecommerce site that you’d like to pass on?
SHIPPING! Always think about shipping. The shipping always bites you if you don’t think through your business model carefully.
We have a pretty unique shipping situation since we’re delivering fragile glass neons. But at the outset everyone told us that everyone loses money on shipping. It’s just become a standard on ecommerce sites to have close to free shipping — no one expects to pay for that these days. So building-in shipping into your operating costs is important.
Even though we ship our neons all over the place, we still are constantly iterating on the best ways to package, ship and install them. Maybe it’s always a work in progress but it’s a big part of an ecommerce business that is hidden in plain sight.
Make your next website using Squarespace. Squarespace offers online store, templates and domains to help you get your business off-the-ground! And when you use coupon code DESIGNMILK at checkout you’ll get 10% off your first purchase.