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Rails of Sheffield

Find out how Little Fire Digital helped build a new platform on which Rails of Sheffield could build their business.
The Rails of Sheffield website - currently turning over milliions

About Rails of Sheffield

Rails of Sheffield are one the largest retailers of model railways and hobby materials in the UK. Despite their size and success, they remain a family-run company. As well as a retail store – frequented by Jools Holland, Phil Collins and other celebrities as their tours take them through Sheffield – they maintain a thriving e-commerce presence.

The Challenge

In 2018, Rails left their existing web development team. A long and productive relationship had ended in disappointment. Mired in technical debt, the website had become unreliable, increasingly expensive to maintain and almost impossible to extend.

Relationships soured and developer and client parted company.

Little Fire had long been business friends and occasional advisors to Rails of Sheffield – when they found themselves without developers, they turned to us.

But this was a big business, the site turning over tens of thousands of pounds per day. The website was an unknown quantity, beyond the technology on which it ran we knew very little about how it worked and how to manage it.

Nonetheless we raised our hands and took the site on.

The Actions Required

The Website Needed Updating

Such was the growth of the company that many new features were needed – integration with in-store EPOS, integration with dispatch and warehousing and many other features were lacking or not working. A single individual had built the website and it fundamentally lacked the design framework to integrate with third-party systems. Using the existing platform would mean every extension would need extensive coding to create a bespoke solution.

Speed Needed to Be Improved

Many pages, particularly those for website administrators, were sluggish to the point of being glacial. The answer for which always appeared to be: “Spend more money”.

We Had to Maintain Service

A nerve-wracking prospect as even a short period of down time would cost the client thousands.

The Solution

The old website was coded in C# running on the Microsoft Azure platform – at that time it was well outside the experience we had in-house.

So we set about recruiting an expert … and what an expert we got.

What Did Little Fire Digital Do?

With our new, expanded team we took over the existing site – without losing a moment’s uptime.

We were able to implement many smaller requirements and update the site in short order.
But, with the increasing requirements of the ever-expanding business, a custom-coded solution was just not a viable long-term solution.

Following our advice, Rails of Sheffield committed to moving their platform to Shopify – one of the largest and most widely used e-commerce platforms.

The Shopify platform is an excellent, powerful base platform that includes product information management (PIM), site search and full, basic e-commerce functions – all built in.

The Shopify applications platform meant we could complete other extensions with relative ease.

By leveraging the enterprise-level reliability and open application architecture, we could focus on some of the really big projects and meet the growing business‘ needs …

Anything Else?

Warehouse Integration and Order Fulfilment

After carefully researching several solutions, we have been able to integrate the website with PeopleVox – a high-end warehousing platform which, using intermediary services, links seamlessly with Shopify, greatly easing order fulfilment.

We have integrated the complex delivery rules which the company requires to delivery shipments worldwide.

The company‘s two eBay stores have also been integrated with PeopleVox, meaning all orders can be fulfilled and dispatched by the same team.

Inventory Control

The product manifest is large – the website sells thousands of products. We have been able to integrate Inventory Management to help ease the difficult process of predicting what needs to be ordered when – meaning more cash can stay in the business.

Custom Integrations

There are oddities to the model railway market which mean pre-orders can be taken for products years in advance. The company already had hundreds of orders awaiting manufacture, fulfilment and delivery. It‘s a large part of overall website sales. Enabling this on the Shopify platform has required extensive work. Using Shopify’s .liquid display framework, the jQuery javascript framework and a .NET core, we have managed to integrate a separate pre-order buying process within the Shopify environment.

Email Marketing

We have moved the existing email Mailchimp-based email marketing campaigns to Klavyo. Vastly better in appearance and carefully targeted, it is already earning the company thousands in sales though improved targeting and automated workglows.

… and Built the Website

With our in-house expertise, we were able to transform an off-the-shelf Shopify template, making it entirely Rails‘ own. Market-specific, additional product data has been added, and improved product filtering integrated.

The Outcome

This has been a huge project, aspects of it are still ongoing.

The investment from the client has been significant – both with Little Fire and in their own premises, team and capabilities.

Working with Little Fire, the year-on-year benefits for the client are in the millions of pounds.

In 2023, Rails of Sheffield overtook their nearest rivals – their stated ambition back in 2018.

Want to Find Out More?

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