In this edition of Vendor Spotlight, we interview Marty Shue of CarolinaCustomDesigns.com, a Concord, North Carolina (USA) based web design and development firm. Carolina Custom Designs is also a Gold Certified PrestaShop partner.
Carolina Custom Designs offers a diverse PrestaShop skill set and has created a number of PrestaShop websites and modules. Here’s a quick list of some of the module they provide:
- Multi Block Arbitrary Text Or HTML – Multiblock allows you to hook the hooks provided by PrestaShop with a few click of the mouse to insert arbitrary content blocks in the front and back office.
- Product Finder – Create and add a widget anywhere on your website to filter products by their features.
- Abandoned Cart Follow-up – Track abandoned carts and create and email discount.
- Product Video Tab – Product Video Tab allows you to associate one or more videos with every product.
- Product Query Pro – Product Query Pro adds a button to all product pages to launch a form for soliciting user interaction.
- Beat That Price – Adds a form to every product page allowing visitors who has seen a cheaper price at a competitors’ web site to query whether you can offer the item at the same or a lower price, giving you a last chance for the sale.
- Back Office Messenger – Back office messenger adds a notice board to the admin home page for adding messages addressed to the employees of the shop.
- Contact Form Pro – Contact Form Pro adds a contact icon to every page to launch an overlay contact form.
These modules are just eight of the 38 modules that Carolina Custom Designs currently offers. They have modules in each of the following categories:
- Front Office Features
- Advertising and Marketing
- Payments and Gateways
- Migration Tools, and…
- Other Modules
You can check out Carolina Custom Designs’ other services by clicking the links below:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services
- Web Design Services and Packages
- Ecommerce Solutions and Packages
Ok, now let’s get on to the interview…
Interview with CarolinaCustomDesigns.com
Tell us a little bit about your business.
- Where are you from?
- What are some of the products and services you offer?
- What types of people would be interested in your products? In other words, do you specialize in the solutions you offer? Or, do you have a broad range of solutions?
- Where can people go to find your products and services?
- What is the best way for people to contact you with questions?
Carolina Custom Designs (CCD):
Carolina Custom Designs is located in Concord, North Carolina. We offer custom website design, Search Engine Optimization, print design and e-Commerce solutions. We pride ourselves on offering unrivalled customer support before, during, and after the design. We specialize in HTML5/CSS3 design and front and back-end development of Prestashop e-Commerce software. We have experience in all versions of the software, implemented on diverse hardware, and used by diverse, multi-national businesses. We have worked with a wide range of clients, from small businesses to enterprise-level companies.
You can find a full listing of the services we offer by visiting our website at http://carolinacustomdesigns.com. You can also find a complete list of the Prestashop modules we have developed by visiting our store at http://prestashop.carolinacustomdesigns.com/.
We can be easily contacted by email either by completing the contact form on our site or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can be assured that someone from our friendly staff will contact you within 12 hrs. to assist you with your question(s).
At your website’s home page (http://carolinacustomdesigns.com/), you advertise several services: search engine optimization, website design, and e-commerce integration. Tell us about each of the services you provide and provide links to work examples, if applicable. Also, did I miss any other services you provide?
I would like to start with ‘website design’ first because this is what got us started out in business. We create one-of-a-kind custom designs. By listening carefully to our clients we are able to provide them with a custom design that meets, and in most cases exceeds their dreams. Unlike many website design agencies we involve our clients in the entire design process. From design conception to final completion our clients are intricately involved in the design of their website. While we have grown our business successfully into other areas of web development, website design continues to be a passion of CCD.
We do offer SEO services but on a very limited basis. SEO takes a good deal of time and therefore, we only take on a fixed number of clients at a time. If you would be interested in how we can get your site ranked highly on the search engines you can contact to see if we have a spot available. We are a white hat SEO firm, using only the best SEO standards and practices.
As you probably expected, e-Commerce integration plays an important role at CCD. Being a Gold Certified Prestashop agency has brought many opportunities our way. E-Commerce development has grown tremendously over the last couple of years and we are one of the leading solution providers when it comes to Prestashop software. We have worked with pretty much every aspect of Prestashop. We have done everything from massive software upgrades on some very large installations to custom module development on small shops. We’ve worked with very small businesses as well as large enterprise level companies.
From your home page, you have a link to your modules store (http://prestashop.carolinacustomdesigns.com/). What is your most popular module and why do you think that is?
Our most popular module currently is Multi Block Arbitrary Text or HTML. It is perhaps the most flexible module we have seen. I think its popularity comes from the fact that it is so very easy to use. The average merchant can add multiple forms of information to his/her shop with a few clicks. It is also popular because you don’t need to be programmer in order to make changes to your store. As we advertise, Multi Block is truly ‘One Module To Rule Them All’.
Please provide a summary of your top three modules and provide details on how they can help PrestaShop store owners.
Since we just discussed Multi Block above I won’t include that module in our top three list.
- Product Video Tab – Product Video Tab allows you to associate one or more videos with every product. Videos can be hosted locally or by third party storage providers (YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion). Videos can be displayed above product description or in a tab of their own. You can add videos individually for each product, or mass import with import function using a basic CVS file.
- Product Query Pro – Product Query Pro adds a button to all product pages to launch a form for soliciting user interaction. Registered or non-registered visitors can use the form to ask a question about a product or to request a quote; particularly suitable when used in combination with the PrestaShop catalog mode. The populated form is submitted to configured email address(es). PQP allows excellent interaction between potential customers and the merchant.
- Product Finder – Product Finder allows merchants to create and add a widget anywhere on their website to filter products by their features. The widget contains one or more dropdown select boxes to filter products by feature. The module has a default hook to display the widget on the home page, however the code required to display the widget on any page of the shop is also given to allow you add the widget, e.g. to a CMS page.
The reason I found you was because you’ve taken over the development of the Multi Block Arbitrary Text Or HTML module, which I think is a great module many people would like to know about. Please describe what the module does and provide some useful examples of what people can do with it. Also, please comment on the evolution of this module from a free version to this paid version. What is different about this module as a paid module versus the old free version?
Multi Block Arbitrary Text or HTML allows the merchant to easily add text, images, or HTML content to nearly every hook available in Prestashop. No programming experience is necessary to use this module. A convenient WYSIWYG editor is provided so anyone can add content to their Prestashop.
Many merchants use Multi Block to quickly add content to either the left or right hand columns but Multi Block will do so much more. For example, we just had a client that wanted to add a special discount code for registered users of their site. After creating the discount code we used Multi Block to add the code to the account page hook. Now when a customer logs in to their account they will see the special discount code. The uses for Multi Block are really only limited by your own imagination.
The paid version of Multi Block is compatible with all new versions of Prestashop (as of this writing the latest version is 1.4.9). Besides several bug fixes one new feature of the paid version is the introduction of a template system. We created several ready to use templates for some of the most common uses of Multi Block. Some of the templates include – Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter, and a template for consecutive blocks. In all there are 9 templates to get the user started.
What type of instructions or tutorials do you provide for your modules?
All of our modules come with a comprehensive user manual. We also provide free installation support.
Out of all the modules you’ve created, what module is your favorite and why?
Well, I have several favorites:) I really like Back Office Messenger. We use it every day to communicate in our own shop. It is excellent for leaving messages to other developers regarding support tickets or progress on a certain project. It is easier than email and has many options.
Please tell us about your philosophy on support and how you work on keeping your customers satisfied.
Our philosophy is simple – we strive to provide the absolute best customer support possible. This means all support requests receive an initial response within 12 hrs. of receipt (most of the time within a couple of hours). A developer is assigned to each support request. Our staff is trained to be courteous and efficient in dealing with support requests.
Please explain the support options if someone runs into trouble installing, configuring, or using your modules. What support is free and what would cost money.
Installation issues are covered under our free module support. If a problem arises during installation and it is an issue with our module we will work with you to ensure that our module is installed properly.
Modifying one of our modules or a theme to accommodate our module would be priced at our hourly rate.
What happens if someone buys a module and doesn’t like it, or it doesn’t work? Do you have a refund policy? If so, how does it work?
If someone bought a module and it didn’t work we would do our best to find the problem and correct it so that the module will work as advertised. If, due to theme or other customizations, we find that our module will simply not work on their installation we refund the entire purchase price. This has been a rare occurrence with our modules.
Modules are a tricky thing with PrestaShop because they sometimes come out with core functionalities that make paid-for modules from vendors, such as you, obsolete and unnecessary. What can you tell us about your modules to give customers piece of mind that they are not wasting their money?
We are very active in the Prestashop community so we stay up to date on current Prestashop trends, releases, and updates. Therefore, we are well aware of new features Prestashop is releasing with each upgrade. Our modules perform very specific functions that are either not native to Prestashop or that compliment a native Prestashop feature.
We are also very proactive to ensure that our modules are compatible with the most recent stable version of Prestashop.
Do any of your modules require core code modifications?
Rarely, for example, a module may be patching a core file to fix a well documented bug during install. However, this is all done during install, transparently to the user, i.e. one never needs to manually replace a file. In addition if a module is making a core modification, when uninstalled it cleans up behind itself leaving the installation in the state it was found.
What advantages has the introduction of the Override folder with its custom classes and controllers provided you as a module developer?
The obvious benefit is that it allows us to override a class/controller without making any core modifications. This protects the merchant as well. Now the merchant can freely upgrade his/her store without the fear of losing any modifications created by modules.
What do you find are the biggest challenges developing your modules in the PrestaShop environment? In other words do you find PrestaShop an easy or difficult platform to develop and implement your modules in?
PrestaShop is a beautifully put together platform allowing not only the experienced developers but programming enthusiast merchants to mould it to their own needs. Of course we have the advantage of being trained by the PrestaShop core developers to obtain a PrestaShop Gold certification. However, even without extensive training from Prestashop one can start tinkering with it without needing a PhD in Computer Science. This is the beauty of the platform; it is accessible to everyone who does not mind getting their hands dirty.
What improvements do you think PrestaShop could make to be a better e-commerce software for developers?
There is a massive amount of work put in by core developers to better the platform on a continuous basis. For example, in many cases a bug report may be acted upon within 10-15 minutes and a solution provided. This is as much as any external developer can ask from a team of developers. We know that when we are trying to solve a client’s problem we have the full support of the platform developers and the solution is a bug report away.
It is not only the bug reports that PrestaShop developers excel in. PrestaShop more or less implements all features available to other e-commerce platforms. Occasionally we may have a client migrating from another e-commerce platform missing a feature they were used to in their previous platform. When reported, PrestaShop is very quick in implementing that feature, in most cases doing the work for us in satisfying the client. They understand and fully support third party developers working with the platform.
What improvements do you think PrestaShop could make to be a better e-commerce software for store owners?
PrestaShop was mainly developed for the European market so in some aspects it was trailing behind other e-commerce packages in the US in the past. In the past 18 months or so they have invested a lot of time and effort to make the package more suitable for the US market and the gap between it and the other packages is now diminished in terms of functionality and suitability. For example, the multi layered Federal and State tax system is the type of thing I am talking about. So now we have no hesitation recommending PrestaShop to our clients, from hobby stores to multi location internationals irrespective of target demographics.
What is the next project you’re working on right now?
In addition to a couple of really cool modules we are developing our next project is a rather complicated PrestaShop upgrade on a very large store. The store is currently using PrestaShop 1.2.5 and we will be updating their software to the latest stable version of the PrestaShop software. The store has many customizations and they had been told their store could not be updated. When they contacted us we assured them that we specialized in such difficult upgrades. They are excited to take advantage of many of the new features available in the new PrestaShop package and we are excited to tackle another challenging upgrade.