Two freelance web designers have a unique idea to strip away the cloak of intimidation that many SMEs still find obscures online business. By making digital enterprise a bit more physical, The Website Shop hopes to foster better relationships between website creators and their clients.
The Website Shop follows the pop-up shop format that has become popular in a time of tighter purse strings. Opening its doors on 26 August at 66 Upper George’s Street in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, the shop will welcome visitors for three weeks, operating seven days a week.
Cian O’Sheehan, founder of ThinkWeb.ie, first conceived of the idea after an earlier ambition to create a space where web designers, artists and digital entrepreneurs could converge turned out not to be feasible.
“I thought, well, if it wasn’t worth having a single space where web designers were going to be working from, then why not just make it public-facing and turn it into an actual shop?” he says.
After researching retail rents and availability, O’Sheehan and Stephen Foy of OpposableThumbs.ie found a spot in Dún Laoghaire to realise this vision.
Your friendly neighbourhood website shop
Like most pop-up establishments, The Website Shop is almost like a testing ground for the designers’ concept. If it’s successful, they’ll look into a more permanent fixture; if not, they’ll take any lessons they have learned and move on.
For The Website Shop, the concept is so fresh that it’s tough to judge how it will go. As far as O’Sheehan knows, this is the first time anyone has tried something like this. He himself isn’t sure how things will turn out, but he is sure of what the shop can offer potential clients.
“I think it’s just that way of moving away from the idea of the [web design] agency being a very private and corporate thing,” he says. “We want it to be more approachable and friendly.”
From his own experience, O’Sheehan has encountered many clients that are still intimidated by the internet and unsure of hiring people based only on online contact.
With The Website Shop, business owners can meet the designers face-to-face in a relaxed environment and O’Sheehan also thinks this direct point of contact and physical location is more of an assurance that the client will be able to get in touch should any issues arise.
“I’m hoping that these kind of elements will just make sense for a lot of people out there,” he says.
Now serving: SMEs
Customers dropping into The Website Shop, O’Sheehan expects, will be much like those from his current client base: small to medium enterprises.
Visitors can either pop in during the three-week stint or pre-arrange an appointment for a 30-minute consultation with no obligation. This informal chat will establish what the client wants and what The Website Shop can provide, and, if it’s a website they’re after, they can guarantee it will be built to current responsive design standards.
“They’re projecting mobile browsing to account for 50pc of all browsing by the end of 2014, so we’d feel like we’re not providing value for money if we weren’t building a responsive site,” explains O’Sheehan.
A lively experiment
The shop, which O’Sheehan describes as something between a gallery and a retail space, will also welcome freelance designers to come in and use free hot desks. This idea stems from the founders’ experience as freelancers working from home and their understanding of how isolating that can be.
There will also be a number of workshops and hands-on events taking place, including Coding for Kids, which will be hosted by the local CoderDojo group.
The addition of up to three or four designers busying themselves on the shop floor and activities taking place for various groups will surely add a bit of life to The Website Shop. Of course, enticing customers into the shop is also a priority, but, for O’Sheehan, this is chiefly an experiment on a new business model.
“Essentially, the money side of things, for us, is secondary,” he says. “We’re just going to try out the concept and whatever happens in three weeks is fine.”