Customers buy all kinds of things online. If a lady looks out the window and sees her neighbor's newly fashioned Juliet balcony, she will more likely track down the perfect product on Google rather than search in local stores. At least, that is what Ben Green, owner of Iron Octopus, a metalwork company, envisioned when he built his business model around e-commerce.
These days, a lot of customers will not hop into their cars to drive around town looking for something -- they will boot up their computers and search for ideas online instead. "I've seen it happen -- I researched customer buying needs and set up a couple of e-commerce sites in the past. I saw how many of our customers preferred to complete the whole process online ," said Ben, who had worked in metal fabrication for five years until he quit earlier this year to open his own workshop in Baildon, West Yorkshire, England.
When he set up Iron Octopus, an e-commerce site was at the top of his to-do list. His main motivator was the fact that there are only a handful of United Kingdom businesses in this industry that have embraced online retailing. The e-commerce business allows Ben to have greater reach into the market.
"Consumer reach and a straightforward purchasing process is key to any business and e-commerce has proved itself as viable way of doing business in my industry – giving customers choice and convenience – at the click of a button. Furthermore, e-commerce allows for better cash flow processes and stock control. It also reduces the amount of back office work."
All these benefits essentially made the work of Ben's partner, his son Daniel, a little bit easier. Daniel, 19, is responsible for preparing materials ready for fabrication, and ensuring timely and safe dispatch to meet customers' deadlines. Another member of the family business is six-year-old Zachary, Ben's other son and the "General Monkey" who wields a mean sweeping brush around the workshop. Ben, meanwhile, takes care of fabrication into a finished product.
Ben launched their website http://www.ironoctopus.co.uk/ with a list of all their products. He looked for cost-effective ways of displaying their Juliet balconies, gates, railings, and steel beams using computer-generated images. The results are almost identical to actual items photographed in a studio but faster and more affordable because they didn't have to weld actual products.
He approached a number of companies based in the UK, but "the companies were difficult to deal with and were pushing me down the path of an expensive creative process," he said. The companies wanted to engage in lengthy discussions requiring him to come see them face to face. "All I wanted was to submit my design requirements and 2D and in return they would send me a 3D output. I wanted to use the Internet to speed up the process," he said.
Freelancer.com ticked all the boxes for Ben after Googling for 3D Designs and Designers. "I posted my requirements and watched as experienced designers started bidding. The platform allowed me to set a budget for the project from the outset, which reduced the back and forth process of haggling on the price."
He picked a freelancer from Dubai, Dreams3DS, and said the process was like a breath of fresh air. "Working with Dreams3DS was simple and collaborative. We were able to communicate technical information easily, and we were always "on the same page" so to speak. He worked from simple drawings to create simply stunning 3D renders of my products. They will take pride of place on my e-commerce site," Ben said.
The project cost £500 for 24 3D images of Juliet balconies. To get the same work produced in the UK, it was going to cost over £200 per image, totalling over£4,800. Next up is having railing and gate designs rendered in 3D. "I've already hired Dream3DS again to do further work."
Iron Octopus is still in its infancy, but Ben projected that the e-commerce function (with the help of online advertising) will net £5,000 - £7,000 per week. "The Iron Octopus website was built with the future in mind, unlike many of its competitors. We have embraced modern website principles, and as such, would like to acknowledge platforms like Freelancer.com that complement businesses like ours."