With Software I … Connect to the Community

Software allows us to do more than simply make a process run more efficiently. Software allows us to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. For my friend, Jonathan Starzyk, e-commerce software enabled him to follow his dreams.

In April 2016, he and a friend, Elena Sáenz, decided to launch an online store specializing in new and vintage clothing. Seven months later, 18th & Wood was born.  

I sat down with Jonathan to hear their story and how software helped them along their journey.

How did the idea for 18th & Wood come to you and Elena?

We both had been wanting to do some type of retail for a while. I started a vintage shop in college that I received funding for through a program called Pomona Ventures. I ran the shop out of my dorm until I eventually got an office space. I eventually closed that shop because it was difficult to sustain a fully vintage business. But I was craving more. My business partner Elena Saenz was also looking for a creative outlet.

Will you explain the significance of the name?

We needed a name that would be available on social domains, and we started this business at Elena’s apartment, which is right at the intersection of 18th and Wood in Pilsen [a neighborhood southwest of the Chicago Loop]. That also happens to be where my parents moved when they first came to Chicago. Pilsen just feels like a community. It has such a rich culture and we wanted to showcase it. That is why our website is so minimalist. We want our clothes and the culture of Pilsen to speak for itself.

What software did you use to build your online store?

We are very big fans of Shopify. They have an amazing marketplace of applications that are very easy to integrate. Their themes are beautiful. Their free templates are easy to use and work with.

How did you decide on Shopify?

We looked at a variety of platforms. Squarespace also had beautiful templates, but they were limited in functionality. It wasn’t great for SEO either. We looked at Wix and Weebly as well. Shopify was just far more sophisticated. The shipping is built in, which is great. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had some bugs come up, just like any software. But Shopify’s developers are just very quick to respond to any issues that may arise.

You and Elena built 18th & Wood from the ground up. How do you market that?

We are both very into social media. While we both have modest followings, we have a great network of friends that includes photographers and artists. Facebook ads are huge for us as well, and Shopify gives us credits for those ads.

We first used Facebook ads to market our pop-up events. It gave us a really good baseline. We work on every part of our audience funnel through these ads — brand awareness ads, conversion rates, etc. … Everyone that comes through our site is so important to us, so we work on remarketing as well. Shopify helps with that remarketing.

We have been working with AdRoll on and off as well. It’s helped us to remain in the top 15 percent of website traffic for all stores on Shopify that opened the same week as we did. That shows you can’t just send a simple message.

Is there a software you couldn’t do your job without?

Definitely Facebook Audience Network because we can get so highly targeted with those ads. They are cheap and get us in front of exactly who we want to be in front of. It gives us a lot of room to build off efforts and expand audience. We also love Foursixty. It allows to embed a shoppable Instagram feed on our site. Imagery is so important to what we do and our largest following is on Instagram. We can capitalize on that by having one of our main pages go to the “shoppable Instagram feed.” Buyers can shop around and go to cart without leaving that page.

Do you use any sort of software to assist you in thrifting?

There is no software to help us, but software helps us to make the thrifting process easier for our customers. Software can present vintage in a different way. Some people will just say, “Oh. I can just thrift that myself.” But we spend hours at thrift shops across the country. We find those items and arrange them on our site to make it easier for customers. They can search for specific items on our website. People can’t do that at a general thrift store.

There currently is a trend of e-commerce stores opening up brick-and-mortar locations. Why did you follow suit?

We were initially based out of Elena’s apartment and completely taking it over. The setup of her apartment allowed us to shoot and work there. But we were outgrowing the space. Her lease was also ending soon, so we knew that we needed an office space when she moved out. We quickly found a space that allowed us to both shoot and work in the same location. Having an online store is great, but our brand is all about Pilsen. It made sense to have a physical space so we can connect with people in the community.

Do you think you would be where you are now without software?

We would definitely would not be where we are without software. I am not a web developer. I have basic coding knowledge. When I have time to tweak code, I can go look and see what I need to do. But I cannot do that from scratch. Elena and I have full-time jobs. The tools we use allow us to showcase our brand beautifully and in a targeted way.

Jonathan and Elena’s favorite software, Shopify, is a favorite of G2 Crowd users as well. The e-commerce platform has a 4.2 out of 5 star rating, with over 1,000 reviews (as of 8/25/17). One review praises Shopify for having everything his businesses needs. Another review commends the software’s ability to create a sleek, professional and engaging website. If your business is in need of a new e-commerce platform, compare the features of every solution on the market with our E-Commerce software Grid®.