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An Interview With Press75 – How to Revive a WordPress Theme Shop

WordPress is an increasingly lucrative marketplace that more and more companies are trying to move into. We already talked about this a little while ago in our interview with Macho Themes on how to start a successful theme shop.

Today we want to turn to one of the more established names in the WordPress universe — Press75. Established by Jason Schuller in 2008, it is one of the longest-running WordPress businesses in existence along with the likes of StudioPress, iThemes, and WooThemes.

At one time, Press75 brought in more than $30,000 in monthly revenue. However, when Schuller started to turn away from WordPress and shift towards other projects, this number declined steadily.

In 2014 Schuller finally sold the shop to Westwerk and its subsidiary Werkpress. To find out what has happened since, we sat down with their own Travis Totz and talked about how they picked up the mantel after acquiring Press75, how the shop has developed since and the strategies that have helped them revitalize it.

If you would like to know more about the ins and outs of reviving an established WordPress brand, just keep reading. By the way, if you are interested in what Jason Schuller has been doing since leaving Press75 behind, don’t miss out on our interview with him.

The Rebirth of Press75 — An Interview With Travis Totz

At this point we already want to say thank you to Travis for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions in detail. He really made an effort to put a lot of value into his responses. But now, without further preamble, let’s hear it from himself.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers? Who are you? What do you do? How did you get into WordPress?

As introductions go, I’m Travis Totz. I hail from Minneapolis, Minnesota and I am a designer, web strategist, and a traveler. One of my goals in life is to live for adventure and experiences. WordPress has been a true catalyst when it comes to allowing for a life full of fantastic experiences.

I have the privilege to work with WordPress everyday — not only through co-operating Press75 with my business partner Nick Pelton, but also through being a Senior Web Strategist at Modern Tribe.

It’s awesome to be able to design and build products on WordPress at Press75, while having the opportunity to strategize and build amazing client projects at Tribe. The mix is fantastic, exciting, and each day I feel like I get to learn something new.

My buddy Nick Pelton and I have been digging into WordPress since version 2.0 when we were looking for an open-source CMS for clients at our first agency job. It’s been really neat to continue to work on a platform that’s seen such a wonderful growth pattern and adoption over its history. You know you love WordPress if you’ve stuck with it as long as I have.

You acquired Press75 in 2014. What were the main factors for that decision?

Our long term road map at the time was getting into products. When we heard Press75 was looking for a new home it was really great timing.

We worked together with Jason Schuller to take over Press75, because we saw a lot of potential in the brand, the theme offerings, and the WordPress market itself. We knew that if we worked hard to breathe a bit of new life into the website and the brand, we could take Press75 to a sustainable place. By doing so, we could offer great new WordPress themes and plugins for the industry and for the loyal customer base.

Did you have any prior experience selling WordPress themes before that?

We started small really. Working with theme customization products, until we grew our agency-level services to enterprise-level WordPress projects. We really wanted to take this experience and skill set to the products space. Observing and working through what customers wanted from themes put us in a unique place to understand those needs for our users.

So, our initial selling of WordPress themes was mainly based on custom design and building projects for our customers, which then brought us to the place where we’re at today with owning and operating Press75 for just over two years.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities concerning the shop?

This varies widely from day-to-day, but generally Nick Pelton and I work together on strategy and planning for the shop itself. For example, what do we need to do and when do we need to do it, who’s doing what, and where should we focus our resources next. I also tackle the design related tasks for the shop — new theme concepts, designing new features within existing themes, and updating our website. Not to mention tackling a few support requests day-to-day.

How does Press75 stand out from the crowd? What makes you different from other shops?

We offer themes with a purpose. You won’t really find themes at Press75 that try to fit a general offering or business model, but rather themes that work for a niche.

We’ve found that our audience goes to Press75 for themes that fill a special need; for example, we offer a great range of video-centric themes, portfolio themes, and blogging themes.

We stand out from the crowd with a simplified approach to design and code — we don’t include unnecessary fluff. We really try to provide our users with what they need to accomplish a goal.

Press75 is our passion business.  It’s a place to experiment with new ideas, and create things we think are useful. So much stuff makes it to the Internet these days as just a product with a sales goal. Our goal is to make stuff that is beautiful, elegant, and serves specific purposes. We are fortunate enough to to have a business that allows us to do that.

When you took over the website, it had seen a sharp decline in commercial activity. How have things developed since then?

It’s public knowledge that there was a decline in sales prior to mid-2014, and revenue numbers when Press75 was put up for sale. We knew it was an uphill battle, but also knew with some care, re-engagement, and momentum, the brand and product had real potential for growth. In the time we’ve operated Press75, we’ve gone from marginal numbers to a very healthy, profitable business that supports a small team.

What were the biggest changes that you introduced to Press75 that played a part in this development?

We were able to dedicate a small team to Press75, which was a big change, since it was previously a single person’s focus before our time. We also implemented new processes for support, maintenance, pricing, and roadmapping. All of these combined allowed us to truly provide a consistent message for Press75 customers, but also build a new path to success.

Any huge aha moments, lessons, surprises, failures or pivots on the way? What would you do differently if you had to do it again?

We’ve learned a lot working on an online products business in the past few years. We’ve learned that customers are the core value of our business. Our products can only get us so far, but making sure we support and listen to our customers has paid off in many ways.

We also have learned that the industry is full of really great people. When attending conferences, many other WordPress product shops are very open about their business and all want to help. It’s really refreshing to be part of an industry where open collaboration is the norm — just like Open Source is meant to be.

It seems that while you do offer plugins, they don’t really play a role in your business. Was that a conscious decision?

Yes, we wanted to really test the waters with plugins last year and into this year. Essentially seeing if the concepts that we were dreaming up had enough momentum to eventually be a paid offering. The test is ongoing, but the opportunities for exploring and playing more in the plugin realm are definitely on the horizon.

 

Many of your themes are also available on WordPress.com. How did that happen and how does it affect your products? Are there big differences in developing for WordPress.com as opposed to other distribution channels?

When we acquired Press75, there were three themes available on WordPress.com. The sales of these products continued to increase on the WordPress.com marketplace, so we had decided to continue developing themes for WordPress.com in addition to our .org offering.

I would say while there are differences, the WordPress.com platform is fairly similar and the real differences lay in compatibilities (plugins, tools, etc.) and what is allowed within the codebase itself.

Developing for WordPress.com (as well as other theme marketplaces) can be challenging, simply due to the code reviews, stipulations, and guidelines. However, I think that within today’s theme market, placing your products on multiple distribution channels is almost a necessity.

How do you generate traffic? Which are your main marketing channels and ways to bring in customers?

A large part of it, we feel, is certainly organic history. Press75 has been around since 2008, so that still generates a lot of traffic and backlinks from the past (and present). Apart from that, we do direct email marketing to our email list, social media, affiliates, and some PPC advertising.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the WordPress theme market and where do you see it headed in the future?

We feel that the theme market is becoming a bit fragmented and saturated based on the various marketplaces that sell different themes from a large number of individuals or shops.

That being said, I do still believe there are many customers out there searching for themes that fit their need. It’s also promising for the theme market to see WordPress continue to grow year-after-year, taking even more of the internet market share.

 

In the future I think that theme shops and developers will continue to need to innovate and advance the platform. We, as theme providers, need to stay at the top of our game to create new ways for users and customers to push their own businesses forward. We can do this by listening to our customers, staying involved in the community, and using new technology and languages (like JavaScript) to innovate.

Do you have any feelings or opinions about the general direction of WordPress, e.g. with the REST API, shift towards JavaScript and other recent developments?

It’s neat to see WordPress continuing to push forward with things like the REST API and advising our community to keep learning more Javascript. It’s needed. WordPress is an old platform, and while PHP is a great language, we need innovation and advancement.  We’ve used the JSON API quite a bit in our service lives, and have plans to see how it can fit in the Press75 product line.

What can we expect from Press75 in the near and far future?

More themes for both our WordPress.com and WordPress.org customers. We’re exploring other marketplaces to help broaden our audience and base. We’re hoping to release a some neat themes using more Javascript-focused features or integrations (specifically React), explore using the JSON API,  as well as quite a few theme refactors from our older library.

Summin Up

In the growing sphere of WordPress businesses, Press75 has one of the longest claims to fame. It is one of the earliest successful theme shops that, after a sharp decline in business, has made a comeback under new management in the last two years.

Its example shows that the WordPress ecosystem has not only come to a point where companies become recognizable brands but where it gets more and more common for enterprises or products to change ownership. Another example we have recently seen of that was Modern Tribe’s acquisition of GigPress.

However, continuing the legacy of WordPress businesses or reviving them is not always an easy feat and takes some careful planning. To help others in similar positions, let’s quickly summarize the main points that Travis made about this process:

  1. Vet your opportunities thoroughly
  2. Use existing skills to pivot to new areas of business
  3. Clients are the bedrock of any successful WordPress venture
  4. Customer support is research, learn about your clients’ needs
  5. Go niche; be selective with your products and specialize
  6. Concentrate on building useful products instead of just selling
  7. Be open to explore and experiment
  8. Diversify your marketing channels

As you can see, the lessons above are not only be useful for those in a similar position as Press75 but will also help anyone trying to build their own theme shop from scratch. Thanks again for Travis for sharing them!

What do you think are the most important lessons about running or reviving a WordPress business? Any key lessons to add? Comments? Thoughts? Please let us know in the comment section below.