February 7th, 2024 by Gage Pacifera
Over the years, Harmonic Northwest has helped Fort George Brewery build stores on a number of different e-commerce platforms: Big Cartel, VineSpring, Commerce7, Square Online and most recently, Shopify. I thought it might be interesting to document that journey a bit and write about how we arrived at our current lineup of stores.
In the Beginning, There was Merch
Initially Fort George Brewery only sold merch online. This was a logical place to start as selling alcohol online is a complicated affair that involves navigating a host of rules and regulations and at that point they weren’t terribly interested in putting time and effort into selling beer directly to customers.
Their marketing team looked over options and decided that a Big Cartel site would be the best option. Plazm created a design for the site and Harmonic Northwest implemented a custom theme. The site allowed for organizing products into categories, selling gift cards and implementing a number of customizations. Plenty of customers were able to buy hoodies, hats, glasses and more.
Pandemic Paradigm Shift
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the taprooms had to close their doors and switch to doing only take out. This was problematic as the brewery didn’t have a good system for taking orders and payments outside of those spaces. To address this problem, Fort George To-Go was born.
As the brewery was already using Square for their point of sale system, it made sense to put together their online food and drink ordering site in Square Online. Plazm provided design guidance and Harmonic Northwest led the site development along with brewery staff who entered in all of the food and drink options. It was a fairly quick build and once the site launched the brewery could take restaurant-style orders for their delicious pub fare that customers could carry away. The taprooms are open again now but the brewery continues to use this site to fulfill to-go orders and also to take keg orders at the dock.
A Store for Club Members and Deliveries
Looking for additional ways to get their beer into the hands of customers during the pandemic, the Fort George Brewery team wanted to set up a new store that would allow customers to buy beer online and get it delivered to their door. Additionally, they wanted a site that would cater to members of the Lovell Auto Co. beer club and the mug club who would have access to special beers.
A platform called VineSpring looked like it would fit the bill. VineSpring was a club-based online store platform geared toward wine clubs that could be easily adapted to beer clubs, as well. The platform adeptly handled memberships and perks while also offering a fully-featured online store. Additionally, the system was designed to navigate many of the legal and logistical challenges around shipping alcoholic beverages within and between states.
Again Plazm put together a design for the site while Harmonic Northwest handled the development. VineSpring had a fairly robust API and we elected to build a headless site using Next.js and React. There was a large chunk of custom functionality we built in around the club member lockers, where exclusive beers would accumulate and be stored for pickup. We actually ended up building two stores, one for Washington and another for Oregon, to ensure compliance with alcoholic beverage regulations.
The Commerce7 Pivot
In 2022, VineSpring was acquired by Commerce7. The new platform was bigger and more robust than VineSpring in many ways and had many of the same features as VineSpring. We decided to go with the flow and try out Commerce7.
Unfortunately the buyout also entailed the retirement of the VineSpring API, which required us to adapt our headless site to use the Commerce7 API and to align to a new paradigm for managing the club. Harmonic Northwest led that effort and the store was migrated in a timely fashion to the new platform.
The Next Frontier: Shopify
Commerce7 didn’t quite feel like the right fit—the club functionality wasn’t well adapted to how the clubs worked and the e-commerce part of the platform wasn’t quite as robust as hoped for. So the decision was made to hop platforms again, this time to the ever-popular Shopify platform.
We ended up combining the Washington beer store, the Oregon beer store and the merch store into a single Shopify site. Shopify’s handling of state-specific concerns was granular enough that the Fort George Brewery team felt they didn’t need entirely separate beer stores by state. And we were able to find a combination of third party apps to power the club management in a way that worked much better than the previous platform.
Harmonic Northwest created a custom liquid theme using front end code from the previous beer store and we helped add and configure products, product tags, shipping rates, tax rates and more. We also set up scheduled automated syncing of inventory data between their Square point of sale system and the website.
Now Go Get Some Beer!
If you have made it this far, you definitely have earned yourself a beer. 🙂
You can check out the new store and buy a case or two of Fort George Brewery’s delicious brews at https://store.fortgeorgebrewery.com. The brewery’s to-go site is at https://togo.fortgeorgebrewery.com and you can join the Lovell Auto Co. beer club at https://lovellauto.co.