Brand Breakout Summit/2021: How Great American Cookies and 3 Owl Built a Fully Integrated eCommerce System in 10 Weeks

In 2019, Great American Cookies and its parent company, Global Franchise Group (GFG), saw an emerging opportunity to expand their in-store model by selling and delivering their decadent delights directly to consumers. In order to capitalize on this, GAC needed to build a fully integrated eCommerce and inventory management system, aligned with existing production processes and a new consumer-direct delivery model…and launch within a 10-week span to capitalize on anticipated holiday demand. The new website saw a 1200% increase in year-over-year holiday sales, underscoring the magnitude and impact of the new eCommerce solution.

Check out the video below to learn how creative agency 3 Owl and WP Engine built a transformative eCommerce solution that’s bringing in the dough for Great American Cookies.

Video: How Great American Cookies and 3 Owl Built a Fully Integrated eCommerce System in 10 Weeks

In this session, Global Franchise Group VP of eCommerce Lisa Cheatham and 3 Owl Founder & Director Of Strategy David Feldman discuss:

  • How Great American Cookies made the pivot to online sales with help from 3 Owl and WP Engine.
  • Specific details of the fully integrated eCommerce solution Great American Cookies put to use to increase sales by 1,200% year-over-year.

By the time the holiday sales rolled around in 2020, the sales just exploded even more. We saw a 1,200% increase in our year-over-year sales. Everyone at the company was super excited. Our fulfillment team was working nonstop.

Lisa Cheatham, VP of eCommerce, Global Franchise Group

Full text transcript

LISA CHEATHAM: Hi, I’m Lisa Cheatham I am the VP of eCommerce for Global Franchise Group. And we are a strategic brand management company that owns and operates five different restaurant concepts, those being Great American Cookies, Marble Slab Creamery Ice Cream, Pretzel Maker, Hot Dog on a Stick, and Round Table Pizza. I’ve had the experience of working in various marketing projects throughout my time at Global Franchise Group. But by far, this eCommerce project has been one of the most rewarding yet challenging projects that we’ve had thus far. And Thanks to David and his team, it’s been a really fun one.

DAVID FELDMAN: Thanks, Lisa. We’re honored to be a part of this ongoing project. My name is David Feldman. I’m the founder and director of strategy at 3 Owl. 3 Owl is a technology-centered creative agency in Atlanta. We like to say that we deliver brands that work. We know that the custom brands we build often need custom digital experiences. We love WordPress. Our developers love working in that open platform, open-source system. So we are able to deliver enterprise-level custom solutions for our clients with the ease of our clients be able to use the WordPress admin panel and back-end and content management system. So this is an example of a project, soup to nuts, that we were able to bring to life with the help of WordPress.

LISA CHEATHAM: So just a little bit of background information about Great American Cookies and how we decided to go direct to consumer. So Great American Cookies was founded from an old family cookie recipe back in 1977. And they really set the standard for gourmet cookies in a very fun and celebratory environment. We’re widely known for our signature cookie cakes that can really be customized to any occasion, whether it be a birthday or anniversary, or just, hey, I love cookies. We’re all about being there for life’s sweet moments.

We’ve grown to over 380 retail locations around the US and a few international locations as well. And we are also able to maintain our product integrity and heritage as we produce our exclusive cookie dough at our manufacturing facility in Atlanta, Georgia. So back in 2019, I was talking to the executive team and just really expressed my interest in learning and being able to work on some new projects at the company. Before I had worked on our brands and helping them bring projects such as loyalty programs, catering menus, third-party delivery to life, and really wanted to expand my knowledge in the digital space.

So one day, my manager came to me and said, hey, we think we were ready to test a direct-to-consumer eCommerce program for Great American Cookies. And of course, I jumped on that opportunity. Even though I had very limited knowledge in the eCommerce space, I could pull up on some of my marketing experience and knew that I needed to find the right partner to help bring this to life. The challenge would be launching this prior to our holiday season. So in the cookie business, because we’re a lot of retail implications, we see a very high spike in sales when it comes to that November, December time frame, as customers are doing a lot of holiday shopping, and cookies go very well in that timing.

So we knew we needed to launch this project by November 1, knowing that we were getting this started in September. I was also five months pregnant and getting ready to go on parental leave in December of that year. So everything was very condensed. But that made the project just even more fun to figure out how to get it done and how to make it work.

DAVID FELDMAN: I remember when I received the email from Lisa. It was mid-August, which put us at that 10-week time frame. I remember thinking, we have 10 weeks to do this. I was also about to leave the country for three weeks to go on vacation. Luckily, part of it was to go hang out with our development team. So the timing was actually pretty great there. But I knew that before I left on vacation, I had to have three critical questions answered in order for my team to get to work immediately.

Question number one was what content management system we were going to use. I’m sure you can all guess, we chose WordPress. The reason we chose WordPress was that all of Global Franchise Group’s websites were already on the WordPress ecosystem. As I understood, Global Franchise Group likes to have everything standardized. So we just continued that WordPress stream and chose WooCommerce. The next question was, where are we going to host it? Again, I’m sure you all can guess, we choose WP Engine.

Our agency uses them for all of our websites. We needed to be able to spin up installs quickly, make copies of websites, have 100% uptime, et cetera. And the third question– this was the challenge that I’ll talk about further in the presentation– was what inventory management system are we going to integrate with? Because as Lisa mentioned, all the cookies are baked to order. So we’re not just pulling a t-shirt and packing it and shipping it. We actually have to know how much dough, how much sugar, how many sprinkles go into each cookie, and what a bake sheet looks like every day.

So that was the one question we had. And we really got to take advantage of WooCommerce and WP Engine to help determine that. So I’ll have Lisa talk to you guys about the ending and how the project succeeded. And then we’ll get into more details of how we actually got it done.

LISA CHEATHAM: Yes, so as a result of this 10-week time frame– and I know we kind of gloss over that. And we’ll get into some of those details– but it was successful. We were able to hit our timing launch on November 1. We were working furiously to make that timing work. And David and the 3 Owl team kept us on track. Even when we hit some bumps in the road there, we were able to find our way and find some solutions to make it happen.

So each day, we weren’t sure what the consumer demand was going to be. But each day, we saw more customers purchasing from us, learning about this new way to ship cookies directly to their homes. And so we saw significant growth each day throughout that time period. So overall, we were very successful in launching this project. We started small. We only had four flavors of cookies that we offered and really only six products. So we didn’t have a lot of time to really create a lot of new products for this initial test launch. But what we had, resonated with our customers. And so we were already satisfied for that.

One thing to note is we did all of this pre-COVID. So we launched this in 2019. And it really just set the stage for when customers came back. And our retail store locations had to close last spring. We were there and prepared to ship out cookies to anyone that one of them or was having a craving desire for that. And we really saw some record-setting sales last April and May due to that, with no significant changes to the website and no crashes or anything like that. So that was also very good to know that we were able to set that stage and have that foundation ready.

As we look through the remainder of 2020, the sales just continue to grow each month. So each month we were just very shocked and continue to work on new improvements. And we’ll get into those a little bit more at the presentation. But by the time the holiday sales rolled around in 2020, the sales just exploded even more. So we saw a 1,200% increase in our year-over-year sales. And so just everyone at the company was just super-excited. Our fulfillment team was working nonstop. Every day we would look at the orders that came in.

And they would just be like, oh my God, how are we going to get that many out? But we all made it happen. It was a very team effort to make this project come to life. But everyone was super-excited about it. And that’s just setting the stage for even more further growth and development as we look on towards 2021 and 2022.

DAVID FELDMAN: Thanks, Lisa. I love reflecting back on this project because there’s so many storylines. And I’m going to talk about the meeting where we had all the players at the table, really one of my favorite moments of the project. So I want to take you all through how we did it in 10 weeks, how we laid a foundation for what we ended up expanding on in 2020 and 2021. So how did we do it? Ultimately, as I said, we have this 10-week time frame. One of the biggest challenges was tackling this inventory management piece.

So bake-to-order cookies means that the SKU, itself, when it gets into an inventory management system, has to align with how many pounds of dough, how much sugar, how many sprinkles, et cetera. And the system had to be able to communicate with WooCommerce. And WooCommerce had to be able to communicate with the system. So this was mission-critical. We ended up choosing Linnworks as our partner. The challenge that I had was I had to know before I left the country that Linnworks would work.

So we spun up a WooCommerce install on our own WP Engine server, got on the phone with Linnworks, did a live screen-share, and did the integration in real-time, so put in the API credentials, ran a few test orders, put in a few example raw inventory products. And we just made sure everything worked. I needed to know this before I left so we could move forward. We also knew that we needed to have a partner that would actually come to the plant and set up all of the modules and all the stations, as well, because there was an entire training element there.

All that said, everything worked. Linnworks is now our partner. And again, because we were able to spin up the WooCommerce install so quickly, we were able to find a partner, give them our blessing, within a two-day period. So something I love about this project is it’s not just an eCommerce project. We do, at 3 Owl, a lot of work where we will rebuild a website, look to increase conversion rates, increase sales. This was truly a soup-to-nuts project, building an entire system from the ground up.

So as Lisa mentioned, the plant sends out raw dough to 300-plus locations across the country. There was actually a new section of the Great American Cookies plant built out specifically to bake cookies to order. So it was important that all of our data was connecting to the site. And we also even knew what time a bake sheet needs to be sent in the morning, so when is the order cutoff time. So by the time the plant team came in, they knew exactly what they were baking that day and when they had to ship these perishable products, on top of that.

The other part of this was we were also adding this site within the Global Franchise Group ecosystem. So instead of building a completely separate site, because this was a test, we used WP Engine’s site migration tool. And we made a direct copy of the Great American Cookies website. We did that on our own server, that way we were not interacting with the live marketing site. Again, we knew that the marketing site was going to be getting a lot of traffic, as well, because it was holiday season and it was managed by another team. So we made an identical copy of the environment and got to work on all of it on WP Engine, which made it a lot easier for us and our developers.

So in that time, we had to, with the team, determine pricing, build an AB testing to know how to price, how to price in the shipping costs. We also pulled live rates from FedEx to make sure that the rates were accurate. All of this culminated into a meeting at Global Franchise Group with our team, Lisa’s team, the plant team, FedEx’s team, and two of Linnworks’ developers from Estonia and one from Austin who came in. We all sat at the table together to make sure this would work. And this was about four weeks prelaunch.

So we got all the systems working. And with any good site, you build in the testing period. So we had a two-week testing period. And it all worked. So while the front end of the site looked very simple, there was an entire system that had to be built in the background, not just on the website, but how an entire plan would function and interact with a WooCommerce website. So that was all successful. And that led to a lot of scaling up, starting in 2020. So Lisa, there’s a lot there to talk about. I know you were very busy when you got back from your parental leave. So I’d love to chat more about how we scaled up.

LISA CHEATHAM: Yeah, so thanks for that. So yes, I got back and was just really excited to see everything that was in place. We didn’t have any issues while I was out. So that was always keeping my fingers crossed. So after that, we were like, hey, David, what can we do next? So we knew that we needed to look at some things to improve the user experience, and then just make some overall site improvements on the front end. So let’s go through a few of those.

So first, as we’re going through this eCommerce project, the Great American Cookies brand was also going through a re-branding effort. So it was time for us to make the brand a little bit more modern and up to date. So they were looking at everything from changing the logo, changing the brand color palette, even completely redoing the store design. So as you can see here, this was our prior logo and store design, very bright and colorful with the primary colors. But then we just wanted to bring it more up to date.

And so from there, you can see that this brand new color palette, it’s soft. It’s light. It’s airy. It still projects the same fun and celebratory environment that the brand embodies. And so we knew that we had to convey this over to the new eCommerce website. So David and his team were able to take our brand style guide and bring it to life through the website. You can see here, we started out with just that simple here are our products, do you like these cookies, order them, and with a product page.

David showed us some new designs and new ways to bring this to life. And everyone was wowed and impressed. This was the first time that the brand was going to be featured in this new style through our eCommerce platforms. So we knew we had to get it right. And everyone loved it. So the color palette, the styling, everything about it was just very easy to look at and easy for consumers to use. This also allowed us to have some roadmap for adding new products. So from there, we were able to add some new things like our cookie decorating kits that were super-popular during the time period when everyone was at home.

And then eventually, we came to think, well, great American cookies is kind of flowing on its own. We’ve added some new flavors to our palette and assortment. Let’s think about adding another brand to this portfolio. And when I went to talk to David about that, he said, yeah, of course, we can do that. And it really wouldn’t be that hard. We could create a micro-site on the platform using the same templates and everything that had been created for Great American Cookies. So we took that and ran with it.

And our R&D team had already started creating some products, as baking bread was really popular when everyone was at home. But you can’t find yeast in some places. And so we thought, why don’t we use our delicious pretzel dough? We already make it. And so we’re going to ship it frozen on dry ice, ship it overnight so it arrives do you frozen. You’re going to thaw it out and put it in your oven. And you’ll have that fresh bakery smell. And so we decided to test out our pretzel breads for the pretzel maker brand on the same micro-site as the Great American Cookies platform.

DAVID FELDMAN: And the interesting part here was our timeline here, while we had a good amount of time to do it, we launched and designed this in six weeks. As Lisa mentioned, we were able to use the exact same template that we have built for Great American Cookies. Within the theme settings, we have a second brand in there for Pretzelmaker. So Great American Cookie, their team is actually able to choose brand color. They’re able to upload all the logos. So really, a lot of it was just duplicating the structure and making sure that was in place. And everything else really worked well from there.

The challenge here was, as Lisa mentioned, this was shipped overnight on dry ice. So we had different shipping prices, especially as you’re shipping across different zones, prices change. One of the challenges that we were able to work through was a shared cart. So for example, if you want to add cookies into your cart, as well as everything bread that’s shipped on dry ice, those are actually two separate packages. So we actually built in some code that sees if you have a Pretzelmaker product in your cart. It splits the order. If you want to ship with dry ice, the cookies are shipped normally. The price for shipping is all correct.

And we didn’t want the user to get too many emails, so we set up what was called a parent email that had both of the orders in it. So it’s still a seamless checkout process. We can also upsell products between stores and have a really nice seamless enterprise-level multi-store site within one really easy-to-use backend. So to get it more about what we were doing with WooCommerce and WordPress together, we love WooCommerce because you can combine content and commerce in one store. So we’re not just looking at product pages, as Lisa mentioned, we’re able to spin up as many pages as we need using advanced custom fields.

So here’s an example of a page dedicated to the Double Doozie, which is icing between two cookies. It’s absolutely delicious. And we knew that this was an important product launch. So we created a page builder where, essentially, there are multiple modules that can be dragged and dropped, moved up and down, where we can add products if needed, add, images, add video. I have a little screenshot here where you can see the Double Doozie kit page on the left and then the admin panel on the right. And just by looking at it, it just makes sense.

So what I really like about using WordPress is that every single module that we build for any page can be used across the site, so scaling happens really, really quickly that way. Any module on this Double Doozie page can be used for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, et cetera. One of my favorite parts about designing this way and developing this way, I’ll go to the site and see a brand new beautiful page that our clients built without even asking us, how do I do this, can you provide us content? It makes it really easy to use. And it just empowers our clients to build at the speed of marketing. Because you’ve got to move fast in the eCommerce world. And WordPress really allows us to do that.

So all that said, we had to scale up. We knew that we were going to be getting more traffic. We were thinking about the holiday season. And we were seeing what was happening during COVID. So we talked to WP Engine. And we moved the site from our server to a dedicated virtual machine on the Google Cloud Platform. We immediately saw a speed boost doing that. From there, we used a lot of WP Engine’s recommended best practices to continue improving site speed and security. We installed WP Rocket. If you all are not using WP Rocket, I highly recommend it. It’s actually the only caching plugin allowed on WP Engine’s system.

And WP Engine actually worked with WP Rocket to make sure that their caching systems don’t overlap. So that did a lot as far as utilizing lazy load, minification, deferring loading of JavaScript off-screen, et cetera. We saw great speed gains there. We also set up Global Edge Security, which is an integration with Cloudflare. So we, right there, had firewall protection, DDOS protection, which is so important when you’ve got an eCommerce site. And we also added Smart Plugin Manager. And it’s truly smart. What Smart Plugin Manager does for us, it updates the plug-ins in the background. If any plug-in causes the site to break, it won’t update it. It’ll actually send our developers a message saying, here’s a plug-in that you might want to check out before you upgrade it yourself.

So all of our plug-ins are up to date. And a lot of that work is automated. One of my favorite images in this entire presentation is how that actually affected our site speed. Here’s our competitor. They’re on Shopify. I’ve got them blurred out. But I just went to Google and ran a site speed test. And they were 42 on their Shopify Plus platform. After we moved the site over to the dedicated virtual machine and did everything we talked about, we’re at an 86, running significantly faster than them, which is so key for conversion rates and for a great user experience, especially on mobile.

From there, we just started adding new features to the website. We knew the people were ordering products for birthdays, for holidays. So the idea of being able to select a delivery date was really important. So we added a delivery date selection. In this screenshot, you can actually see that we created custom order statuses within the backend of WooCommerce. So right now, we’ve got multiple addresses highlighted. But we also have on hold for Linnworks. So that’s the delivery date selector. So if somebody were to select two weeks from now, which would be towards the end of June, if they select like a June 25 delivery date, our system knows that the bake sheet has to get generated on June 23 in order for that product to arrive at two days.

So we have this on hold for Linnworks status that we were able to create within WooCommerce. It’s an open-source platform. The nice part for the client is they can go in there and edit that order if the customer wants to change the note, change the delivery date, or the address. So it gives them a lot of flexibility there. Another piece that we added– we saw this during the holiday season. People were going in and placing multiple, separate orders to different addresses. So we added a very enterprise-level feature of being able to whip multiple addresses. And you see that on the front end here with the Ship Item to Another Address feature.

We asked our client, how do you want this to work? Do you want the customer to receive one email with a collection of all of their orders or separate emails? And we really built that exactly to how Lisa and her team wanted to do it. Again, our answer is always, yes, let’s do it the way you want to with a best practice versus finding out what our limitations are. And finally, we added the shared cart across multiple brands as well. So all of these features, we continue to add them on. We see how all of them are helping increase sales and increase conversion rates.

One additional feature that we added– the plant saw mounting orders coming in around the holiday season. So within global settings, we added a fun feature where they can go in and add any email addresses they want for people to receive, in the plant, to receive a list of all upcoming orders so they know exactly what’s coming in around the holiday season so they can plan ahead. So all the SKUs are put into a spreadsheet. And Lisa can go in and add in any email addresses that she wants if more people in the plant want to receive that automated email. We’re doing all of that within WooCommerce to not have to use a third party, so everything is contained within this system.

Right before this eCommerce site launched, the Great American Cookies corporate site still had the old branding. There’s a theme here. We only had a few weeks to do it. They asked us to re-skin their site. We realized we were actually in a much better place than just re-skinning. We had all these awesome, advanced custom fields that we had already used on the eCommerce site, and just started migrating those to the corporate site. So what ended up happening was we built out the entire Great American Cookies site using a lot of advanced custom fields we already had and added a few more on there. So you can see the advanced custom field and the homepage of the Great American Cookies website. Again, it saved us a lot of time and only took us a few weeks to do.

We also moved all of GFG’s websites to the dedicated server, which means everything is consolidated. And we took advantage of Global Edge Security and Smart Plugin Manager for all of the websites. What was nice was some of the websites are a little bit more legacy. All of them had site speed increases. We’ve had no issues with hacks or bugs ever since we moved everything over to WP Engine. So it helps our team scale up. It also helps our team manage a lot of content, at an enterprise level, by being on a managed server with WP Engine.

So overall, I love how the eCommerce site was able to influence the entire brand. And we got to build a stronger and stronger digital ecosystem. So with all that said, we’ve got a lot of plans for 2021 and beyond. And Lisa will walk you through those.

LISA CHEATHAM: Yeah, thanks David. So knowing that we had made it through launching two brands direct to consumer on our eCommerce platform with not any major issues, now the team is like, OK, so what brand is going to be next? What are we going to do next? So excited to say that we’re preparing right now to launch our third brand on the same platform. And that is scheduled to launch in mid-July, so definitely stay tuned for that. David and the 3 Owl team, this one is just a little bit less stressful because we’ve been there, done that. That platform and foundation has been laid.

So now we’re looking at the beautiful designs and just a few tweaks on how to make it work. But we’re really comfortable with everything that has been laid thus far to make that work and launch. This project just has been really fun. Because we’ve had a lot of success in this channel, the company is definitely putting more resources and investment behind us growing to really making this a full-fledged part of the Global Franchise Group department. And my team has grown. I was a team of one when we first started. And now I’m a team of three, with one of those people being a dedicated B2B sales manager who’s focusing on our corporate gifting efforts.

So one of the also insights that we found during the holiday season is that companies wanted to order our cookies for employee recognition, client appreciation. And without having anything developed on the site, we had to do that a little bit more manually with our sales manager. But David, of course, like he said, we come and ask, what do you think we could do this to make this Better? And he’s like, yes, of course, we can add a corporate-gifting multi-site onto this platform just so that we could easily compartmentalize those orders.

If someone wanted to order 25, 50, 100 cookie boxes, they could very easily do that with a few clicks versus now it being a more manual process. So we’re looking forward to getting that added at the end of the year. And then just even more, I’m always looking for best practices ways to improve our website. I’m sending David and the 3 Owl team lots of ideas. And of course, his answer is, yes, we can do it and without having a lot of challenges.

So this project has been very fun. It’s definitely been a great learning experience for me We couldn’t have done it without 3 Owl. So thank you David and your team for helping us with that and all of your partners that helped just to make our website solid and a great user experience for our customers.

DAVID FELDMAN: Thanks, Lisa. And for our team, you all believing in us and also believing in investing into a platform like this. We’re continuing to expand it. And it’s just it’s fun to be able to dream up fun ideas, find a best practice that we find on another website, and get it green-lit and see how it affects the sales and improves the website. So it’s a really fun journey to be on. We’ve also learned a lot and continue to be really grateful for using WordPress and the open source platform because we really feel like the sky’s the limit and we have no limitations on hosting. It’s only up from the current server that we’re on. So we’re excited to see what 2021 brings and beyond.

LISA CHEATHAM: So thank you.

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