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The Run Hub X Milk Bottle Labs – A marathon, not a sprint

Mark Horan, the Managing Director of The Run Hub, details his experience with moving his online running store onto Shopify Plus. He has kindly spoken to us about his biggest ecommerce challenges and how Milk Bottle Labs has adapted to solve some complex problems. We also discuss some of the Run Hub's biggest ongoing achievements and the contribution from Milk Bottle Labs' expert team.

From this case study, you will learn whether hiring a Shopify partner is really worth it and how you can choose the right team for your ecommerce site. It comes down to the people, their attitude and their willingness to take on any challenge you put to them.

Going the extra mile

Having been heavily involved with triathlon and the retail industry, Mark Horan felt that the Irish market lacked a specialist online running retailer. Horan created a one-stop shop for hobbyist runners and competitive athletes to browse a vast product range. The Run Hub stocks the broadest range of premium running brands, covering footwear, clothing, nutrition, accessories, watches, etc. 

Not only did Mark Horan's offering fill a space in the Irish sportswear market, but the company values are second-to-none. The tagline 'Going the extra mile' is reflected in three of The Run Hub’s business pillars; the people, the technical expertise and the product range. With this, the MD is confident that The Run Hub "far exceeds everything else out there".

With the fast growth of the business, it soon became apparent that, according to Horan, "the site that we were using at the time couldn't necessarily meet the requirements and demands that we were asking of it, and more importantly our own customer’s user experience expectations.. The choice of e-comm platform initially came down to what would integrate best with their POS software, RMH.  Mark admits to spending countless hours listening to various podcasts to help steer his own decision-making process, finally deciding on a move to Shopify - a comprehensive platform for omnichannel commerce, growth and scaling.  

Switching ecommerce platforms comes with challenges; The MD foresaw this and decided to work with a Shopify expert from the get-go. The new Shopify store launched in November of 2021, and the migration had its fair share of complications which the team faced proactively.

Mark Horan, MD, The Run Hub, 2023.

"I know two industry peers who have gone with other Shopify partners and have had nothing like the positive experience I've had."

The biggest hurdle: Shopify migration

Shopify Migration and data transfer was by far the most significant challenge. The usual approach is to use an API to convert databases into the correct format for Shopify to read. The Run Hub's powerful POS software RMH. "As good as it is, it is not cloud-based, and there are not a lot of APIs out there to connect it to Shopify", comments Horan. Even once an API from the US was identified for the job, "it wasn't as seamless as we were hoping…it required a hell of a lot more development ". 

"Another big challenge was image migration; there was a huge bank of imagery…compressed in a format…not readily compatible with Shopify; that challenge was of huge magnitude". Multiple product variants for an already large inventory required a lot of development work and clever streamlining, but MBL developer Lachlan "worked his magic ". 

Not only does The Rub Hub offer a vast range of products, but each product has many variants. So, alongside POS integration and image development, "importing product information was another problem". It required the expertise of the Milk Bottle Team to create a large number of new meta fields and efficient use of product tags to speed up the process. The alternative would have been manual data input, and with such a large inventory, this wouldn't have been feasible.

It took a year from the initial talks of whether the API would work or not to go live on Shopify. However, once the team were confident in their approach, the monumental migration project took just three months. Mark Horan was thankful that "we had no major challenges when we did go live".

Keeping pace with a fast-evolving industry

The ecommerce industry presents a constant challenge; it is forever evolving regarding customer expectations and new integrations. With a growing number of Shopify Apps available, it is essential to keep up with trends, streamline and identify the most appropriate Shopify app. Milk Bottle Labs spent time "researching the business, and the apps they suggested have all been great additions… they're meaningful", claims the MD. In fact, an app called Gorgias has significantly improved customer support. The Run Hub has reduced response time by integrating inquiries from different platforms. In addition to the added chat feature, improving customer support has contributed to a boost in sales. 

Mobile shopping is a significant development in the industry. Horan used to get 80% of visitors from the desktop, which has since "flipped on its head"; 85% now come from mobile. This requires a developer to optimise for mobile UX and fast-track the experience for on-the-go shoppers.

"We've increased our own social media presence to drive traffic to the website…but if the site isn't appealing enough for people to stay on it, there's a mismatch; thankfully, at the moment, we have a match, and it's working."

Mark Horan, MD, The Run Hub, 2023

Although Shopify is a user-friendly platform with themes, Horan was focused on optimising an omni-channel offering ie bringing as much of our in store experience to our Shopify store. The constant evolution of the Shopify store has also helped to create a match between their social media offering and the online store; this has been instrumental in boosting traffic and sales.

No Shopify challenge is too big

Mark Horan highlights the importance of choosing your partners based primarily on business relations. "I just clicked with Peter…I trusted him from the outlook", says Horan. There is also mutual respect between the teams as both, understandably, are selective of who they get involved with. The team were straight talking and approached every project with enthusiasm; they treated the business as if it was their own, which was "reassuring" for Horan.

"I know two industry peers who have gone with other Shopify partners and have had nothing like the positive experience I've had."
Mark Horan, MD, The Run Hub, 2023.

It was clear that Milk Bottle Labs "took quite an interest in our project because of the challenges the project presented"; the struggle did not deter them. This proactive attitude has persisted throughout, and it seems to Milk Bottle Labs as if no challenge on Shopify is too big.

Is it worth it to hire a Shopify expert?

The possibilities on Shopify are vast. The melding of usability and buildability is unparalleled in the industry. However, getting the most out of the platform is not as simple as you might think. We detail why you might need a Shopify development service for your business:

  • Migration – although APIs are available, they have their limitations. Horan explains that "the information is being fed into the API in one format but isn't always coming out the other side in the right format" or "going to the wrong locations". This is where specialist expertise comes to fruition.
  • Selecting and using the right Shopify App or API – with the thousands of apps and APIs available to integrate with your Shopify store, it takes an expert to find and implement the right ones that are impactful to your business.
  • Building a product inventory – extensive product inventories with many variants require clever tag management and the creation of unique meta fields to streamline the process. Without a specialist developer, you could be left to enter masses of product data manually.
  • Site personalisation – you can stick to Shopify themes, but a personalised Shopify design takes it to the next level. Does your Shopify website reflect the experience in your physical store? Does it reflect your brand values; if not, how can you change that?
  • User experience (UX) – You need a visually appealing site that keeps up with customers' ever-changing expectations. Do you have a chat feature? Are you mobile-optimised? It must be straightforward for a customer to browse, shop and check out from your ecommerce store. Does your site follow the three-click rule? A developer can help with Shopify maintenance and keeping up with trends.

For omnichannel growth, efficiency and excellence on Shopify, get support from a Shopify partner with your business interests at heart.

Speak to Milk Bottle Labs today!